The Budget and history

To judge by some media reaction to the 2012 Federal Budget, socialism is alive and well and running amok in Canberra.  The banner headline across The Australian’s Budget supplement was

Smash the rich, save the base

supplemented by the amazing Bill Leak cartoon at the top of this article.

The Australian’s political editor declared:

Wayne Swan has gone as close as he could to admitting this socialist redistribution is really about making amends for the carbon tax without admitting it.

The Oz’s coverage was replete with references to “class warfare” (as, indeed, was much of the coverage in other mainstream media, including the Fairfax press).

In an interesting rendering of history, former Rudd apparatchik Troy Bramston offers the view that Julia Gillard has broken step with Labor Prime Ministers going back to Chris Watson in 1904 in indulging in this crass “class warfare”.  And for good measure, John Curtin apparently eschewed socialism, despite embracing democratic socialist principles until his death in April 1945 and, from some readings, being to the left of his Treasurer and successor Ben Chifley on the “money issue”.

In the fiery politics of the period, John Curtin and Ben Chifley often employed emotive language that championed workers over business.  But this did not mean Labor was anti-business or pro-socialist; nor was the rhetoric seen as counter to the national interest.

It was Chifley, of course, who famously ‘took the holy ikon of Socialism off the walls of Caucus and marched with it into the House‘ and attempted to nationalise the banks.  This did create some excitement in business circles at the time, not unlike the mining super profits tax in 2010:  indeed, it caused the banks to run print, radio and later TV advertising related to “preserving free enterprise” until well into the 1960s.

People will have their views about the efficacy of the 2012 Budget: good policy/bad policy; too much spending/not enough; it’s the budget that will bring home the bacon/the budget that will pork us (etc).

But as academics Peter Whiteford (UNSW) and Gerry Richmond (Flinders) suggest, the proposition that the Budget is an adventure in class warfare is a bit rich:

…the targeted additions to spending in the budget are in part symbolic, but also likely to be quite progressive in their impact. Whether this signals an ongoing commitment to a more progressive tax and welfare system in the future remains to be seen.


15 May 2012

We have had drawn to our attention other commentary which sums it up pretty well.

Let’s talk about the cover of today’s Australian

This isn’t intended as a defence of the Government’s Budget (I’m not enthused) or some partisan shot across the bows of the Liberal Party or even a real engagement with the content of the paper itself, but rather to suggest that if anyone involved in the production of this front cover looked at it and thought “You know what? This is exactly what a newspaper is meant to be” then they have no business using the title journalist. Just call yourselves propagandists and be done with it, because this thing is closer to the output of a Stalinist regime than anything contained in the 2012 Budget.

–  Luke Ryan  The Vine


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