19 July 2010

Lies, damned lies and Tony Abbott

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will hoist high on the masthead of his election campaign two promises based on fundamental misrepresentations of reality.

The first is a promise to “stop the boats”, based on the proposition that the current trickle of frightened humanity arriving on our shores during the northern dry season constitutes some kind of a problem, and has some sort of connection to the issue of “a sustainable population” for Australia. Both parts of that proposition are palpable nonsense (boat arrivals are a tiny fraction of total arrivals) and it is hard to imagine that Tony Abbott really believes either of them. If he does, heaven help us.

Another part of this particular misrepresentation is the notion that a government led by Tony Abbott would have carte blanche to do “whatever it takes” to stop the boats from coming. He really should read the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol and the handbook Refugee Protection: A Guide to International Refugee Law, a guide produced jointly by the International Parliamentary Union and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention, which sets out in considerable detail a contemporary view of how the Convention is supposed to work in practice. These documents make clear that asylum seekers have considerable rights that are well grounded in international law, which means that no Australian Government can design policy starting with a clean sheet of paper.

The second misrepresentation of reality is the promise that there would be no carbon price imposed on consumers.  Oddly for a man who claims to be a conservative, and to represent the party of small business, he seems deeply suspicious of markets, preferring to rely on the Marxist-Leninist approach of centrally planned direct action implemented by the national government. This will be done with your tax money, dear readers, which indicates that Tony Abbott, bored by economics as he confesses himself to be, is unfamiliar with the notion of opportunity cost. In exchange for the projects selected by Tony Abbott and his colleagues, you will be getting less of something else.

The deeply misleading aspect of Tony Abbott’s approach to climate change is the suggestion that he can achieve his stated target of reducing Australia’s emissions to 5% below 1990 levels by 2020 without consumers feeling a thing. He cannot; the measures he has in mind are simply not commensurate with the scale of the problem. Perhaps Tony Abbott is bored by numbers too, because on this one they simply do not add up.

To put it in a nutshell, Tony Abbott is going to the Australian people promising:

-  To fix a non-problem, and

-  To refrain from doing anything serious about one of the biggest problems the nation faces.

That is hardly a compelling offering.

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