Hockey exposes us as fair weather friends

15 May 2014

With this Budget, Joe Hockey has signaled to the rest of the planet that Australia expects to free ride on the efforts of others. He has abandoned the core Australian value of being true blue, writes David Ritter. Originally published in The Drum.

“Hey True Blue, don’t say you’ve gone…”

As Australians, we like to think of ourselves as reliable and dependable. We make good mates and loyal friends. We have an image of ourselves as a people and as a country that will chip in. We do our bit. Australia will be there.

Unfortunately though, the reality of Joe Hockey’s Budget means that the rest of the world has reason to look upon us as a nation of bludgers: as a country that breaks its word and does a runner.

Australia has made two significant promises to the rest of the world in the past: to do our fair share to pitch in and tackle global poverty, and to do our bit on climate change.

Sadly for our reputation, this Budget breaks both those promises. Hockey has trashed our name in the global village.

Aid spending is the biggest single cut in the Budget, with expenditure capped in a way that means Australia’s promised contribution to the Millennium Development Goals – the global mechanism to help out the world’s poor – has been effectively abandoned.

And while the Government is still rhetorically committed to doing our bit to keep global warming to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, the substance of this Budget makes the promise look as empty as the MCG on Good Friday.

Expenditure on the Government’s so-called Direct Action climate policy will be capped, irrespective of whether Australia’s promised 5 per cent reduction in emissions is achieved in 2020.

The Australian institutions that help us understand and act on climate change have all been weakened or killed. Funding for the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology has been reduced, the Australian Climate Change Science program amalgamated, and the Climate Change Authority is on on death row.

The programs and institutions that sought to make Australia a profitable part of global solutions to climate change are also under the hammer.

The Government’s decision to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency is just the latest attack on one of the fastest growing industries in the country, following the introduction of legislation to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and coinciding with the “review” of the Renewable Energy Target, which increasingly appears intended to have a pre-determined outcome.

We’d also promised to chip in to stop the world’s remaining rainforests being slashed and burned, but Hockey’s gone crook on that one too. Globally, deforestation contributes about 12 per cent to global emissions as well driving numerous plant and animal species to extinction.

Australia has previously contributed significantly to international forest and environmental programs, but in an ornery exercise in “do as I say, not as I do”, almost all such funding appears to have been cut, replaced with $800,000 in this Budget for Australia to run a conference to convince other countries to sign up to a global rainforest deal.

The Budget undermines Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s laudable stated ambition on rainforests, because nobody listens to the town bludger.

The Budget shows a common contempt for the vulnerable and voiceless wherever they are in the world; whether a struggling single mum in Western Sydney, poor people in developing nations who were depending on our mateship to help them with the struggle out of poverty, and all of the planet’s children who need a stable climate in the future.

At the same time, the Budget makes life easier for big business. Corporate tax rates have been reduced and many company tax concessions maintained.

The double standard is particularly galling when it comes to the fossil fuel companies who drive climate change. Not only do such companies, for example, get to keep their fuel tax rebate, they also gain an exploration development incentive and have been told to expect the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes.

We will all now pay for a visit to the doctor when we’re ill, but big business does not have to pay for the pollution it pumps into the atmosphere.

The Treasurer made it clear that penalties will apply to welfare recipients who fail to comply with the new regime. Yet who will follow up breaches of environmental conditions by coal and gas companies given the funding and staffing cuts to the federal Environment Department? The poor are policed while the fossil fuel companies are allowed to run amok.

Problems like global poverty and climate change can’t be solved by any one nation alone; we all need to chip in. That is why we have complex international agreements to set out who is going to do what, so that the whole world can benefit.

But with this Budget, Hockey has signaled to the rest of the planet that Australia expects to free ride on the efforts of others. He has abandoned the core Australian value of being true blue.