Thursday, May 15, 2003

Sooling the rednecks for a late 2003 election

I don’t often agree with Ken Parish’s views – but I think that he’s close to being on the money on this one (albeit, it is a more of a prediction than an opinion). Where we differ – and here I’m referring specifically to one of Ken’s “Comments” in the above URL – is that I see the 2003 Budget’s higher education changes as a deliberately, carefully manufactured “wedge issue” (i.e. an issue of emotive appeal to rednecks, when a considered analysis would probably show that their fiscal and/or long-term interests would be better served by the opposite vote). Here, government’s post-Budget selling of its higher education changes – full of naked, illogical* appeals to resent those with a university education – was the writing on the wall for me.

Both the 1996 and 1998 elections were probably only won because of the presence of a pre- election “wedge issue”. In 1996, it was the ruthless set-up and faux-expose of the Paxton family by TV shock jock Ray Martin – followed, of course, by a post-election barrage of legislation cracking down on so-called dolebludgers.

An almost identical pattern was followed in the 1998 election, again using shock jocks at its sharp end. This time, the “wedge issue” was four-wheel drive vehicles (aka SUVs and “Toorak tractors"), with John Howard skilfully managing to set Labor up as elitists, merely for suggesting that the tax on four-wheel drives should be increased to a level on par with ordinary passenger vehicles.

The post-election “echo” was this time, of course, just keeping the status quo, but this detail wasn’t going to stop the shock jocks and John Howard from having an intra-redneck tete-a-tete all over again.

The 2001 election notoriously had the Tampa issue, but I would play this down as a crafted “wedge”. Not only was it largely fortuitous, but the intervening horror of September 11 effectively trumped everything that had gone before before, and subsequently kept domestic politics off the front burner until well into 2002.

Short of another global catastrophe then, Howard is poised to sool the rednecks once again.

* It is illogical because, in the era of mass higher education, its premise (even if swallowed whole) applies to less than half of young taxpayers. The majority, on the other hand, are expected to pay for their education twice, both privately and then again as ordinary taxpayers.

Update 16 May 2003

Andrew Norton, a pretty good proxy barometer for reading the increasing redneck/HE-blowback pressure levels, starts his Op Ed in today's SMH with this:

During a budget night interview, The 7.30 Report's presenter, Kerry O'Brien, asked the Treasurer, Peter Costello, how he could justify letting universities charge their students up to 30 per cent more. The Treasurer's reply was that as things stood the many people who never went to university ending up paying most of the costs of those who did.

This is utter crap, as I've pointed out just above. It is also a nonsense for another reason, as a letter writer to today's Oz (Dr Michael Leach) pointed out – if the much vaunted $500k or so "lifetime earnings premium" for graduates is (still) true, then the increased income tax returns from graduates over their lifetimes more than covers the costs of their education.

To be fair to Andrew Norton, he devotes most of his article to lobbying more narrowly for a particular hobby horse – of his, and also of his semi-secret paymaster's (see below, Monday, May 05, 2003). This cause – giving unis more control over their revenue (from HECS students, over which they current have none) – may sound benign enough. If this were all it was, indeed, I wouldn’t care at all. But it’s not – more funding autonomy is simply a clever, backdoor way of privatising (the best) universities. If you think that this is an extreme statement, consider how much the Budget changes will blur the full-fee and so-called “taxpayer subsidised” categories – at least until the secondary school-inspired, two-tier (private=good, public=crap) system emerges, c. 2008. See also:

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