IF ONE gives the Gillard government the benefit of the doubt on matters of motive, then its most enduring legacy will be a tutorial on the treachery of good intentions. Labor brought with it to power in 2007 an evangelical zeal to wipe clean the sins of Howard The Beast and the planet-raping, baby-drowning racists who joined him in marching Australia into the wasteland of amoral indifference. It wasn’t mere politics Kevin Rudd and his then-loyal deputy peddled from the stump -- although there was plenty of that, of course -- but a niggly and chiding campaign of moral betterment.
Consider an issue, any issue, and ponder how the shadow of the left’s favourite preachers and pulpits blocked the light of reason, inevitably casting perceptions and prescriptions in the stark white and black of virtue and wickedness. Far from representing the well-heeled upper crusts of the world’s many Trashcanistans (who else can meet the people smugglers’ steep fees?), those who arrived uninvited at Christmas Island were taken as the living proof that the law and attitudes were evil and needed to be changed. The law was changed, almost immediately, and the result has been wrecked boats and lost lives, roof-sitters, riots and, coming soon, a fresh and bizarre trade in human flesh that will see a series of unequal swaps between Australia and Malaysia. As the floundering Gillard makes its incoherent attempts to restore that eroded popularity the one possibility that her government will not consider is that its sliding numbers are all its own doing.
Or global warming, as it was once known, that has seen so much more of the same. Rudd branded it the great moral question of our age and jetted off to Copenhagen with an entourage large enough to reflect that pressing urgency. Result: Much posturing and many photos of the former PM and …. well, nothing much that can be measured, other than the polls’ calibration of the public’s growing disbelief. An astute government might have stopped there and cut its losses. Instead, because it found their company more congenial, it listened to GetUp’s crowd wranglers and the Youth Climate Coalition’s children’s crusade. Now we have Gillard’s carbon tax and her policy's insufferable advocate, the jet-setting Tim Flannery, whose salary, shuttlings and pseudo spirituality are daily reminders that theology has usurped both science and rational policy.
Fix education? A government that heeded none but teachers’ union reps bought, seasoned for taste and swallowed at a gulp the dogma that public works projects produce smarter kids. The result has been twofold: a mushrooming of gold-plated shelter sheds and the opportunity to observe the much better value for money private schools’ lean bureaucracies consistently achieved.
And now comes the budget, which is salted with many further examples of a government attempting to do well by doing what it hopes voters will perceive as doing good. The most striking examples are those set-top boxes, which grannies are to have connected at considerable taxpayer expense. Again, while this initiative must have struck Gillard & Co., as a hands-down vote winner, the likely trajectory from largesse to debacle is easy to plot. There will be shonky installers and horror stories -- lots of those. There will be another industry ruined, just as the home-installation industry was cruelled, by the flood of market-distorting subsidies and state-sponsored competitors to existing aerial installers. And we will see the greatest inevitability of them all: baffled oldsters needing many publicly funded follow-up visits to reset their boxes every time there is a power outage or granddad fouls the wires with his mobility chair. Gilard & Co. may not have noticed, but geriatrics are not renowned for techno savvy.
Nor for their indulgence of obscenity, which makes what the grey battalions might find to watch via those boxes somewhat problematic. Yes, The Bill will screen forever on some UK-themed channel devoted to repeats. And yes, Midsommer Murders and Antiques Roadshow will not be going away. But suppose your Aunt Violet had tuned in to last night’s Angry Boys premiere, what might she have made of it? While intermittently amusing, Chris Lilley’s latest vehicle was more memorable for the dialogue’s relentless obscenity. This sort of thing is always justified in the name of realism, but it was the closing credits that put pay to that excuse. As the names of gaffers, best boys and other mysterious crafts rolled down the screen, a voiceover concluded the episode with a sentence that climaxed in the word “motherf___er”. There was no need for most of the show’s salty language, but that parting shot characterised the shock-the-squares attitude and the ABC’s endorsement of it.
Or suppose your Auntie Violet had stayed tuned for Angry Beast. Once again, purposeless obscenity was endemic. Andrew Bolt has a clip of one segment and he asks, quite rightly, why taxpayers should underwrite not just propaganda but filthy, raucous and grossly offensive propaganda?
The ancients will get their set boxes and Michelle Grattan, Peter Hartcher and all of Gillard's media courtiers will once again have an opportunity to make their inspired excuses for waste and incompetence. But those set-top boxes, they will bear 24/7 witness to a national broadcaster’s misguided sense of mission and our government’s well-intentioned gift of toxic rot.