A transcript of Australian Labor Party leader Kim Beazley’s reply speech to the recent Federal Budget appears in today’s edition of The Age. It’s clear early on that we’re in for a show of mediocrity when Beazley begins by saying: “this budget fails middle Australia and mortgages our kids’ future.” It’s not only vague and clichéd, but appallingly sentimental: the sort of stuff for which Toby and Sam of The West Wing would excoriate junior speechwriters. It’s certainly not a fit phrase for a statesman: such bland, toothless attacks on Liberal policy are surely among the reasons Labor has failed to win a Federal election in Australia since 1996. Come on, speechwriters, stop the drivel. Do it for the kids.
To his credit, Beazley gets to make a few gestures towards making genuine improvements to life in Australia, but misses his target. Things start looking good when he commits to providing “real broadband for your kids and your business.” Yet when he announces that a federal Labor government will invest in a joint venture with telecommunications companies to build a fibre-optic network connecting Australian homes to the Internet, he’s backing one technology in a battle for dominance that ought to be solved by market forces alone. Not only are there cabled alternatives to fibre-optics, such as broadband over powerlines, but the market may eventually prefer wireless delivery of internet services, rendering the government’s investment obsolete. This is an instance where the best government is that which governs least.
Beazley is also right to highlight the insult to low-income earners of “Five budgets without a decent tax break. Then $10 [a week]”, but squanders the potential for outrage on an ockerism (“fair dinkum”) and an odd analogy between Treasurer Costello and playing the pokies. Further on, he veers into outright falsehood: “No tax cut can find you extra time to spend with your family.” It’s a fine argument for the leader of a party that’ll ridicule a minuscule tax-cut, then present an array of plans to spend your money better than it imagines you can, but the fact is that a larger tax-cut, of say, $50 a week, would potentially give low-income families some ability to reduce their working hours, move closer to their workplaces, or outsource some domestic work, to give themselves some more time to spend with each other.
So far it’s bad, but mediocrity and missing your targets are nothing like xenophobia if you really want to wallow in mud. Beazley stoops to blaming foreigners for the woes of Australian youth unsuccessful in their attempts to enter a trade:
We’re seeing Australians laid off while foreign workers take their places on conditions no one should have to put up with … These foreign apprentices are headed to regional areas where youth unemployment is already too high and wages too low. And to get their visas, foreign apprentices must accept whatever wages and conditions are on offer. And young Aussies have to compete with them. Over time, this will ruin the job prospects of young Australians. That’s why I announce tonight that a federal Labor government will abolish foreign apprenticeship visas.
Never mind that Australians are, like it or not, part of a global civilisation and that Australian businesses must compete in a world market to survive, drawing on labour and resources from across the world in their bid for success; no, foreigners are stealing your jobs and your chances in life, and it’s time to close up shop. This is exactly the kind of 1950s-style provincialism that is turning Japan (for instance) into a cultural and economic backwater. Rather than closing the doors on foreign apprentices, Beazley ought to be pressuring the Government to trade on our openness and have more opportunities made available to Australian youth abroad.
If it wasn’t enough to inveigh against “the Ballarat apprentice welders back the jobs they lost to Chinese workers,” Beazley also attempts to lampoon Prime Minister Howard for taking overseas holidays. “Remember his annual family holidays at Hawks Nest?” he asks. “Not anymore. Now it’s Washington, Ottawa, Dublin.” The aim is to imply that the Howards think Australia isn’t good enough for them. Beazley ought to have considered that a trip overseas is a good way to remind oneself of the merits of home. Instead, he encourages the people of Australia to stay cozy at home and pretend they don’t have a global canvas on which to paint their lives. Its a far surer way to fail in life than to lose your apprenticeship to a Chinese immigrant.
Get with the program, Labor.
Update: The Australian has published an editorial calling Beazley’s speech unconvincing, while in the same paper, Dennis Shanahan tries to pass off the speech’s extreme banality as success.