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Gillard looking all the poorer for throwing money at voters

The public's gratitude for cash it believes it already owns is fleeting.

THE money is flowing into bank accounts, billions of dollars of it. According to the federal government, $1.18 billion has already been distributed to 5.8 million Australians as part of the carbon tax compensation scheme.

The government also says payments to cover a proportion of the price rises caused by the carbon tax will go to nine out of 10 households. Close to 6 million households will be either fully compensated or will come out slightly ahead, according to the government's projections.

That's not all. Today, the first lump sum payments that replace the old education tax refund are expected to land in parents' bank accounts. By the end of the month, the government expects to have sent out $1.4 billion for what it calls, using the colloquial parlance so beloved of the marketing people who have its ear, the "schoolkids bonus".

These outlays are, again to borrow from the marketers' lexicon, a big spend. And yet, is any of it changing public attitudes to the government or the Prime Minister? There does not seem to be much evidence of it.

Resentment over carbon pricing among most voters appears to rage on, prompted by looming big electricity price rises. And the real firestorm of protest has not yet begun, although it is not far off. For that, we need wait only until July 1, when the regime takes effect.

As the nation descends into the depths of winter, Julia Gillard's moment of truth is at hand. Her entire political strategy rests on being able to use the reality of the carbon tax to generate a sort of electoral big bang. That is, when the carbon price becomes, at last, a tangible presence rather than a threatening idea, a new political world will be formed.

In that world, the government will at last be able to turn back the hysteria of the anti-carbon-tax crusade led by Tony Abbott, in which every job loss, price rise, badly cooked meal, change in the weather, broken shoelace - you name it - is due to the evil carbon tax. That was the idea, anyway.

Part of the argument in caucus for keeping Gillard and rebuffing Kevin Rudd early this year was based on giving Gillard the chance to turn around the government's fortunes once carbon tax fact was able to be separated from carbon tax fiction.

It's too early to say that it has not worked, of course, but given that the compensation payments have been going out for a month now, the early signs are not good.

There are problems with the notion that the public's attitude towards the government can be recalibrated with money, especially in relation to the issue of climate change.

Yes, sending voters money worked for John Howard at the 2001 and 2004 elections. But the practice got old with some rapidity. By 2007, it was a flop and Howard lost office.

The circumstances were different throughout the first decade of the century, anyway. House prices were going up. Home owners felt richer just by getting up in the morning.

The global financial crisis and its aftermath have changed that. The air is slowly leaking from the housing bubble and prices are declining.

Consumer behaviour has changed, with saving assuming primacy over borrowing. Australians are worried.

This is the fundamental political problem with the carbon tax. Climate change emerged as a live issue before the global financial crisis, when voters felt they had room in their lives and their minds and their pockets to afford to be concerned about it.

Even suggesting this is enough to send some climate change activists apoplectic, but the change in attitudes is plain to see. When people feel economically insecure, anything beyond dollars and cents will matter less.

The government's already low stocks do not help. When an unpopular government, with an unpopular leader, hands out money, there is a cynical reaction. This was true in 2007 under Howard and it is the case now.

The compensation is deemed to be never enough or illusory. Bear in mind, this is a society where people are not laughed out of town when they claim an annual income of $150,000 does not make them wealthy.

The public's gratitude for money it believes it already owned is fleeting at best. The government's decision last week to set up the Twitter hashtag #cashforyou to promote its payouts generated exactly this response.

Typical of the government's difficulties was Climate Change Minister Greg Combet's recent noting that only 8.9 per cent of the average 18.1 per cent electricity price rise in NSW was due to the carbon tax, much less than Tony Abbott has forecast. Which politician is more likely to be punished in that scenario?

In any case, the government has been so beaten down over the carbon tax that it cannot even bear to own up to the policy.

The $1.18 billion mentioned at the top of this article has been paid out under a scheme called "the clean energy advance" and the carbon tax is now a carbon price.

If the government cannot bring itself to explain directly to people why they are getting the money, what hope is there?

Shaun Carney is an associate editor.

twitter Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU


204 comments

  • While the Government haven't cottoned onto this yet, most of the public have.

    There's no such thing as a free lunch.

    Commenter
    Hacka
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    June 20, 2012, 8:32AM
    • The people who are getting Labor's Cash Splash Mach II, know that we'll all be paying for it in the end and the cost will be much higher than the few bucks Gillard has thrown at us. The days of vote buying are well & truly over. We want good governance - not bribes! Too bad Labor is incapable of delivering that.

      Commenter
      mimi
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 9:23AM
    • Its not just this government. Politicians of all persuasions repeat the same mistakes/methods time after time.
      Thas why when we come accross one who is a clear free thinker its a revelation.
      Struggling to think of many.
      This carbon argument has been won/lost now. Nobody is listening to JG. She ran her own scare campaigns when in opposition and is then offended when the LNP do the same when she's in power. Get real.

      Commenter
      wennicks
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 9:30AM
    • When a Government is on the nose the voters see cash handouts exactly for what they are - bribes - and treat the government with the disdain that it deserves - Howard discovered this, and Gillard will too.

      Commenter
      rob1966
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 9:35AM
    • "There's no such thing as a free lunch."

      Well said, Hacka.

      The problem is that people on the Left don't realise that.

      They want endless entitlements. Where does the money come from to pay for these entitlements? It comes from taxing the rich and/or productive people in our society. However, the Lefts hatred of the rich chases the rich away. So with less rich people, how can the society afford the welfare state?

      In France, Hollande wants to Tax the rich 75% to pay for their elaborate welfare state. What has happened to the rich? The are moving abroad. London is now the 6th largest French city.

      @Shaun Carney - "turn back the hysteria of the anti-carbon-tax crusade"

      Climate change is nothing more than hysteria. The left have been deceiving us with promises of a consensus with respect to an imminent climate apocalypse since the 1970's. The climate apocalypse never comes. You can only cry wolf so many times before you lose credibility.

      Even if successful, the Carbon Tax will do nothing for the environment. It will simply hurt economy with little benefit

      The CO2 tax is the baby of the left because it is socialism disguised as environmentalism. They kill two birds with one stone.

      Commenter
      sleepy
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 9:40AM
    • Well, unfortunately in the rarefied atmosphere that the PM and spin doctors mostly came from had free lunches paid for by the union dues of other workers.
      It brings a whole now meaning to OTHER-PEOPLE'S-MONEY when the workers in a number of industries (Public Service etc) are "encouraged" to join the union. So really it's Other-People's-Coerced-Money that provides their free lunch.

      The BER is one of the most widely examined case studies of how not to conduct Fiscal Stimulus.

      In many Public Schools Australia-wide the halls were based on the NSW DET model. A very broken model unfortunately.

      The size hall a school got was smaller than that required to seat the entire school community. FUNDAMENTAL ERROR? Their cost jumped from the week before the announcement by approx 60%.

      The finished product isn't even environmentally friendly.

      The Federal (&State) Govt building weren't subject to the various building codes such as BASIX in NSW.

      Lucky that as they FAIL the tests. The design has no windows of any sort in the hall component - there may be one or two skylights/windows in the storerooms/toilets though.

      No natural day light in the hall itself without doors opened. Even then the lights must be on.

      There is no cross ventilation as there are no windows. They do have roof ventilation but again doors must be open (in winter & summer) for fresh air to come in.

      All this adds up to an unpleasant environment for PE or after school sports in the hall on wet days.

      They fail the insulation rating as the main door is a metal double width (or larger) garage-type door (R=0 confirmed by DET & main NSW contractor).

      It is no wonder that the electorate does not appreciate OUR-MONEY-TREATED-AS-AN-UNLIMITED-RE-ELECTION-AID.

      The debt has to be paid back by us.

      Commenter
      Researcher
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 9:51AM
    • Julia will never get over the dispatching of Rudd and it still rankles with many Australian's. The Carbon Tax lie was the nail in the coffin and one thing is for sure, Australian's wont be lining up for a second dose of minority government.

      Commenter
      labor trasher
      Location
      jagajaga
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 10:08AM
    • @rob1966 - "When a Government is on the nose the voters see cash handouts exactly for what they are - bribes"

      Yes. Thats right. Excellent point.

      The government has money to bribe voters but people with disabilities are sold short.

      The government has announced $1 billion over four years to roll out the NDIS, beginning in mid 2013 in four "launch" locations around Australia.

      Canberra President of the Blind Society, Peter Granleese, said "A billion for the first four years is nothing."

      Peter Granleese said, "At the moment, the combined amount the Commonwealth and state governments spend on disability services is about $6.5 billion - we would need about another $6.5 billion on top of that for a full scheme"

      People with disabilities short be our number one priority for state welfare. Instead our taxes are spend on bribing votes, pink batts blow outs, asylum seeker blow outs, BEC blow outs, a Carbon Tax ad blitz etc.

      It is a monumental moral failure. As a nation we should be ashamed.

      Commenter
      sleepy
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 10:17AM
    • What a lot of utter derp!
      The Liberal Party and it's supporters have become a bunch of Tea-Party extremists who hate the environment with a passion.

      Carbon-pricing is supported by an overwhelming majority of reputable economists and scientists. Opponents have had 20 years to come up with a real alternative but have utterly failed. Abbott's pie-in-the-sky PPL scheme will hit 2500 more businesses than the carbon-price will.

      Commenter
      Think Big
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 10:18AM
    • The Anti-Labor Brigade are as predictable as usual. Labor for some poor political reason may not want to say it but compensation exists through the CO2 tax. The CO2 tax exists because of GLOBAL WARMING.
      Many of the negative nellies above who I'm sure were up in arms during PM Howard's cash splashes, I'm sure, deny outright the existence of GLOBAL WARMING.
      The Science is in. Get with reality.

      Commenter
      meatatarian
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 10:25AM

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