In years gone by the Treasurer's "Budget Speech" was an eagerly awaited event. It set the rate of excise on alcohol, tobacco and petrol as well as the income brackets at which various rates of income tax applied. It set out the amount of the various pensions in actual dollar terms and consequently touched almost every member of the community in some way.
What a far cry from today's efforts. Certainly there is a mention of the taxation brackets and rates, and on this occasion superannuation was singled out but all the rest it seems is now automatic and the "tax take" goes up without notice or debate. For some reason or another "Middle Australia" seems destined to be the taxation milking cow and this reason can only be guessed at.
Similarly, in days of yore, the Oppositions address in reply was an engaging affair setting out an alternate approach, different levels and rates of taxation and excise and probably a different statement of intent regarding such things as infrastructure, health, education and the like.
But 2006 was different. Sure it has been the case for a number of years that the more significant parts of the budget are leaked prior to the event and there have been few surprises in recent years. This year's budget however was a little different in that never has a budget speech covered so little ground. Superannuation and child care received attention but there was no mention of the escalating price of fuel the problems inherent in the health care system as a result of advances in both technology and pharmaceuticals and things like that. Some mention was made about border protection but everyone knows it had been running down for years and is still way behind where it should be.
And the Oppositions 2006 address in reply was no better. It covered only some of the ground mentioned in the Treasures speech and while it was a brilliantly written response there was very little of substance. The opposition's answer to the fuel situation was apparently to build childcare centres in school grounds and so avoid the dreaded "double drop". There really seemed to be little to choose between.
The most likely reason for this state of affairs is that the philosophy and consequently the policies of the two major parties are exactly the same. In other words it doesn't matter which party you vote for the best you can expect is only a marginal difference in emphasis on certain aspects of a particular policy.
Now there are some really fundamental points on which to take issue within the electorate but none of these has been taken up by either party.
By way of example there is the "compulsory" move away from government ownership. This is a monumental argument over which there apparently is no difference between the parties. The government sold the Commonwealth Bank, under Hawke, and now we have precious little control over bank charges. They sold the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories under Howard and now we can no longer get vaccine for Q-Fever a prevalent and debilitating disease among meatworkers and farmers.
We have sold our defence industries capability, our telecommunications system and, at the State level, water and electricity are next, assuming of course that health hasn't already gone. The proposed privatisation price reductions to date are mainly illusory and the great likelihood into the future is that it will stay that way, along with "service".
We are swamped with the argument that the Howard Government has wiped out an enormous pre-existing Labor debt, and this is probably true, but selling public assets, purportedly to the public, is hardly the way to go. Any clown can sell assets earning 15% per annum to pay down debt accruing say 7% per annum, but it's not really smart.
Similarly if the government gets smaller by the year to the point of invisibility then it doesn't really need a lot of tax. Remember, in this process our democratic say in the running of our country is given away [and that apparently doesn't rate a costing] but more importantly what we used to pay in taxes now becomes part of the cost of services. In other words taxes are converted to costs and ultimately profits. And that's all right if the costs are less than the taxation but the lessons throughout the world, without exception, suggest otherwise. Even with the damaging accusation that it was a Labor debt that was being written down, the Labor Party has sat there smugly and by and large copped the lot sweet.
And it's not only in the financial area that no argument is brooked. Look at migration, trade, foreign affairs, defence, education, health and that plethora of activities under the control of the Attorney-General like company law patents, and the like, and you will find that any difference in policy, if there is one is only a matter of degree. We are left amazed and disillusioned.
There's an old saying that says "two's company, three's a crowd" and that's really the root of our problem. The two-party system, wherever it exists in the western world, has become a liability as far as democracy is concerned. Our own history suggests that third political parties are generally killed at birth. If we take America or the United Kingdom the situation there is just a hint at what Australians can expect in the coming years.
Regarding America it is claimed by some that the present government there is not only the most corrupt on record but it is rapidly approaching the status of dictatorship with the executive ignoring the Legislature and the Constitution apparently with impunity. In the UK the Blair Government is in all sorts of trouble because of a fundamental lack of credibility.
And of course we have our own problems with our entry into the war with Iraq as just the tip of the Australian iceberg.
All these things are of course debatable and one of the principle benefits we presently have is the right to openly debate them. We can't assume that we will have this right for ever so now is the time to speak up, not only in the media but at the ballot box. Before as it were, we are "too late".
However all is not lost. There is a simple way out of this predicament and it's all in our hands. If we were to have a meaningful three party system, then policy collusion would be more difficult. If we take this proposition a little further and had a block of independents, people whose continued benefit and interest relied solely on the people that they directly represent then policy collusion would be virtually impossible. And that I would suggest is the only practical way out of the present dilemma.
So at the next election consider the voting for genuinely Independent candidates. After all that's what Don Chip had in mind some 20 plus years ago. Remember his slogan, "Keep the Bastards Honest".
We should certainly be revisiting that sentiment in the 21st century context.
CONCLUSION... Vote Independent!