So much of political debate comes down to the question of government intervention. Should the government manage the economy in a hands-off, neoliberal manner, following the Turnbull-free-market rulebook that says that the god-like economy will punish us for government intervention by slowing down and shedding livelihoods? Or, as per Anat Shenker Osorio’s suggestion, should the economy be viewed as a vehicle that we all use to get us where we want to go, but without a driver, that vehicle will inevitably crash?
Of course, the left versus right, hands-on versus hands-off ideologies are complicated by the obvious contradictions in some Liberal’s positions: negative gearing tax concessions, mining industry fuel tax credits and now the threat to use a clean energy fund to build coal-fired power stations, just to name a few winners-picked for the obvious benefit of the already-rich. But as a general rule, Liberals sit on the ‘let the economy rip’ side of the fence, advocating for the outdated economic theory which says a free market, with bare-minimum tax, solves all problems. Labor sits on the opposite side, where government intervention is seen not as a villain, but as a government’s central role in making sure the economy provides the best outcomes for as many people as possible.
These opposing views are obvious to the political engaged (like me!), but might not be so obvious to the general populace. That is why, when Labor wants to make an economic case for their policies which are viewed as ‘interventions’ in the economy (such as climate policy, job creation schemes, infrastructure stimulus, supporting industries such as the now-defunct car industry), Labor needs to stop using the word ‘intervention’. Why? Because the synonyms for ‘intervention’ include interference and intrusion, implying that when a government intervenes in the economy, they are doing the wrong thing. In the same way as framing expert George Lakoff suggests using the word ‘protections’ in the place of ‘regulations’, when you change the word, you change the frame. So instead of saying ‘government intervention’, Labor should be saying ‘government taking responsibility’, or even more simply: ‘government doing their job’.
Note that Turnbull recently said ‘it is not my job…’ when justifying why he wouldn’t comment on Trump’s Muslim ban. Turnbull also appears to think it is not his job to do anything about climate change. In fact, every day the Liberals show us they don’t think it’s their job to provide the public with quality healthcare and education, nor a social welfare system which protects people from falling into poverty. When opposing the mining tax, the Liberals said it was not their job to make sure future generations secured benefits from the mining boom. When orchestrating the Carbon Price scare campaign, they said it was not their job to reduce pollution and to care for the environment. When the GFC happened, the Liberals opposed Labor’s recession-dodging stimulus package. The entire legacy of the Liberal governments under Abbott and Turnbull, who have used the invention of a fake-budget-emergency to cut, slash and burn public services, in a nutshell, is the Liberals announcing ‘the business of government is not our job!’
In line with this Liberal ideological reliance on the so-called-unencumbered-free-market, their actions, when given the keys to control Australia’s economy, are akin to kicking the driver out of the moving vehicle and letting the car career towards a cliff. The public, who are the cliff-fearing passengers, have been told by vested interests for so long that a driverless economic vehicle goes much faster than one driven by a government, and that the driver just puts the breaks on this speed to the detriment of the passengers eager to get where they’re going, that the idea that the economy works better when the government isn’t in the driving seat, has become entrenched.
If the public saw the Liberal lean-government reality for what it is – a hands-off approach which could get us all killed, it becomes a scary proposition. Ironically, the Liberals have benefited from what has become an electoral conventional-wisdom that they are better economic managers than Labor, when in fact this ‘management’ they speak of is reckless endangerment by letting an out-of-control car damage the community. If Labor asked voters whether they were willing to be a passenger in an economy which has no way of navigating around corners, no way of planning its journey, no anticipation of bumps or objects on the road ahead, which would drive over a cliff if that cliff appeared in its path, they wouldn’t get into the car. Sure, they would want a driver who knew what they were doing. But the first step of competent driving is having a driver in the car. The Liberals say it’s ‘not their job’ to drive the car. So they’re the last person who should be responsible for getting the passengers safely to their destination.