IGR 2015 – redolent with deception – Written by AD ASTRA

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Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen was putting it generously when he said the Intergenerational Report 2015…could win the Miles Franklin Award for fiction.” It is much worse than that. It is riddled with questionable projections, it reflects no coherent vision for this nation and how that vision might be realised, and it defrauds the electorate through blatant politicisation of what ought to have been a serious and scholarly document about our future and how to plan for it.

Abbott cannot help himself. Whatever he does, he is determined to wreak vengeance on his enemies. He has perverted an important review of Australia from now until mid century to take cheap pot shots at Labor, and instead has used it to justify Hockey’s harsh and unfair 2014 budget, one Hockey insisted demanded urgent and drastic action to avoid what he improperly describes as the dreaded crime of ‘intergenerational theft’.

What an opportunity lost! With the facts and figures assembled as the substrate for the report, there was the prospect of extrapolating objectively from these presumably accurate data to paint a picture of what the nation might look like in 2050. There was a precious once-in-five-years chance to describe a vision of what our nation, what our lucky country might attain to in the next thirty-five years. But our incompetent government blew it, and sacrificed that lofty goal in pursuit of its base political purposes.

Sadly, we will have to wait another five years for another such opportunity, because so much of this one, as Christine Milne insists, is fit only to be ‘thrown away’.

Had Abbott, Hockey and Co. not decided to distort the report to paint Labor as profligate and itself as a paragon of economic virtue, some good might have resulted. By so doing, the government has contaminated the whole report, rendering it suspect, and thereby endangering those parts that might be worthy. That is criminally negligent and stupid. To destroy the value of such a significant report for partisan political gain is the equivalent to burning down a university because enlightenment is its raison d’être.

I looked for commentary on IGR 2015, but could not find one appraisal that was wholly complimentary. Maybe you can find one in the Murdoch press. Every commentary I read was critical of crucial aspects of the report.

While I suppose we can assume that the historic and contemporary facts and figures are accurate and verifiable, and therefore usable in making projections, unless the assumptions underlying the projections are reasonable and in line with authoritative opinion and historical record, the projections will be inaccurate, in the extreme case misleading, and therefore worse than useless. To base action on invalid and unreliable projections is illegitimate and dangerous. Yet, if one is to believe the commentary of the majority of economists to date, that is what the Abbott government proposes to do.

There will be a full analysis of IGR 2015 by one of our experienced writers on the main TPS site in a few weeks. All this piece purports to do is to alert readers to some of the grave flaws in this report, so they might avoid being deceived by the current torrent of bellicose Coalition rhetoric.

What’s wrong with IGR 2015?

So far it seems obvious to any objective observer that:

It is a heavily politicised and partisan document.

It is designed to denigrate Labor and its economic strategy.

It is designed to paint Labor as reckless spenders, so incompetent in money management that it would have brought disaster and chaos to our nation’s finances had it continued.

To contrast itself with Labor, it is designed to paint the Coalition as proficient money managers who already are dragging the nation back to fiscal safety, and that but for Senate obstruction it would do so much more expeditiously.

In painting Labor into the dunce’s corner, it dishonestly misrepresents the state of the finances Labor left by inflating the ‘debt and deficit disaster’ with spending carried out by the Coalition (the Reserve Bank cash injection), as well as the loss of revenue resulting from Coalition actions (the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes).

It dishonestly postulates that Labor’s ‘spending’ would continue unabated until 2050, and that no additional revenue would by raised by taxes, or for that matter anything else. In other words, the Coalition deceptively paints a disastrous fiscal picture left by Labor, and extrapolates from it as if no corrective action would ever take place. As Stephen Koukoulas puts it, the figures are ‘fudged’; the IGR is a “politically inspired fiddling of the numbers”.

It makes a series of assumptions, many of which appear preposterous, assumptions that if wrong, as it seems likely many are, will lead us on a false path to nowhere, or to catastrophe.

It draws conclusions that are inconsistent with the facts.

It makes scant reference to the revenue side of the fiscal equation. This is ideological blindness. For example, it does not attempt to address the forfeited revenue resulting from superannuation and capital gains concessions and negative gearing, which together amount to $78 billion of so-called ‘tax expenditures’.

It almost totally ignores global warming, although this threat already does, and increasingly will, impact on the local and the global economy, rendering many predictions about human longevity and productivity seriously invalid. In the Executive Summary of 22 pages, it gives ‘Environment’ barely one hundred words, a sorry collection of the usual weasel words. Nowhere is ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ mentioned, much less ‘carbon’ or ‘anthropogenic’. It is denial writ large in a document that purports to look at the future.

Perhaps worse even than all of the above, it ignominiously fails to paint the shining vision of what this nation might become in the Asian Century if it seizes its opportunities, uses its innovative intelligence, and enters a phase of high workforce participation and productivity. Without vision, all we can do is fly blind.

Because IGR 2015 lacks a narrative, lacks a grand image of the time ahead, lacks a glorious vision, by logical deduction there can be no roadmap to our magnificent destination, no signposts to where we desire to go.

For competent, thoughtful politicians such a vision ought to have been possible, but they avoided the responsibility of developing one, passing up the opportunity to seek the opinion of the people, who surely could have told them what sort of nation they want to live in, what values, what attitudes, and what aspirations they have for their country.

Of all the many defects of IGR 2015, in my view the grossest and most irresponsible is this absence of a glowing vision of our nation’s destiny, an inspirational narrative that might stir the voters to reach out for a magnificent future: happy, secure and prosperous, one that they would grasp eagerly even if it did require some sacrifice and a little patience to achieve the fairness, the equality, the security, and the common good that most of our citizens desire.

As it has been presented, IGR 2015 deserves to sink without trace, which it probably will do. What we need is a bipartisan, well-informed, comprehensive debate among all the stakeholders, especially the Australian people, which results in a proper plan for a secure future for all who live in this great land.

Partisan politics is a curse upon our houses. IGR 2015 is one of the worst instances of it. It might have been so different. We, the voters, lament the irresponsibility, selfishness, indifference and callousness of our government as it passes up such a chance to enrich our nation, preferring to pursue its self-centered partisan aspirations.

Shame Abbott, shame Hockey, shame!

Ad astra is a retired medical academic, amazed and dismayed at yet another example of the ineptitude and dishonesty of this government’s finance team. More about Ad astra here.

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