8
May
2019

Robin Hood & Costs of Inaction

As Election Time Approaches Shorten Proposes Increasingly Unrealistic Policies  

Part of my upbringing involved learning nursery rhymes one of which covered the life of Robin Hood. In those days Robin Hood was portrayed, at least to me, as an outlaw who lived in the forest and whose income came either from the proceeds of his attacks on the local town or from those passing through the forest. But he was portrayed as a hero because he (supposedly) gave the proceeds to the poor. It was only later that I realized that RH’s “fair go” came from failing to allow the local sheriff from observing the law and protecting those who maintained it.

In her article today Janet Albrechsten portrays Shorten as like a Robin Hood who is promising a plethora of “fair go’s” if he receives the necessary votes on May 18. But use of that term inevitably creates problems. Albrechtsen also makes the important point that his historical Labor approach to government is not in Labor’s tradition as represented by Hawke and Keating but more like Whitlam’s. My (considerable) experience of Whitlam is that, while he is still regarded as Labor’s icon, under his regime it was a complete shambles. That led to him only winning an internal challenge from Jim Cairns by one vote and forced him to make Cairns the Treasurer of Australia. But economic management went adrift.

If Shorten wins on May 18, it is likely that his government’s regime would operate similarly to Whitlam’s, although it would be difficult to be as bad. Shorten would likely be followed fairly quickly by left Anthony Albanese becoming the leader (in the internal election in 2013, which included party members as well as members of Parliament, Albanese got more votes than Shorten but not have enough under this system to obtain the Opposition leadership). The large number of policy changes under Shorten, would cause internal disruption even within the Labor party and would be likely to force him out. It would almost certainly make economic management much harder and could see a recession.

Albrechtsen draws attention to policies which are focused on distributional issues and which would cause concern within the party as well as outside it. This would be particularly so in regard to industrial relations, which PM Morrison has dodged in the debates between him and Shorten. By “industrial relations” I include the latter’s policies on relativities between sections of the workforce , such as child care. In my previous Commentary I suggested that Morrison needed to attack the large economic deficiencies in many of these items, including the overall effect on the economy. But while he handled the specifics well in tonight’s debate, he again failed to drive home the inadequacies for the economy.

One of these inadequacies is Shorten’s attempt to dodge the adverse economic effects of his climate policy. His refusal to acknowledge that his policy would have no such effect without taking account of the (unstated) costs of inaction left open a wide area of exposure of which Morrison did not make use. My letter published in today’s Australian obviously (see below) did not reach Morrison or his advisers.

Climate plan costs unjustified 

Letter published By The Australian,12:00AM May 8, 2019

You report that, when asked on ABC’s Q&A program about the costs of his environmental policies, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told host Tony Jones that “you can’t have a debate about climate change without talking about the costs of inaction”.

Well, let’s have a debate about the costs of inaction.

Perhaps the best expert asked to estimate the costs of inaction was Dr Ross Garnaut, who published two long reports for the government on the dangerous warming threat. His conclusion was that the most likely cost of inaction was that dangerous warming would occur in the next century.

One wonders whether Shorten agrees with Garnaut’s best estimate and, if not, when he predicts dangerous warming would start. It is dumb for the Opposition leader to rely on a Garnaut-like estimate but at the same time justify aggressive costs being incurred before 2030 with his economically damaging proposal to reduce emissions by 45 per cent.

Des Moore, South Yarra

Leave a Reply