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The very last thing the economy needs in this country is an election.

This quote comes from our esteemed treasurer, Wayne Swan, as quoted by this article in The Australian. As soon as I saw this quote I cracked up. In context the quote makes sense — in context he’s trying to blackmail the Opposition into approving a certain piece of legislation. But the quote by itself sounds like democracy is being suspended here until the financial crisis ends. Or perhaps I’ve just been studying the French Revolution too much lately.

The piece of legislation this drama is unfolding thanks to is a tax on alcopops. In last year’s budget, the Government decided to impose a heavy tax on mixed drinks, and call it a “health measure”. I think their rationale was that the only people who buy pre-mixed drinks are binge drinkers, so if you make these drinks vastly more expensive, binge-drinking will become unaffordable and people will stop doing it. That in turn protects people’s health.

The Government decided to start collecting this tax before it had been approved by parliament. For months people have had to pay exorbitant prices for their mixed drinks. But then, when the legislation finally came before parliament, it was rejected. This essentially meant that the Government had stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from its people without having the right to do so. To people who bother to pay attention, this makes them look bad.

For some reason, they still haven’t given up on their “health measure”. Parliament agreed last week to grant legal status to the money that had already been stolen (thus making it no longer stolen, but lawfully taken) but that’s not good enough for the Government; they’re determined we need this tax. They’re also really irritated about the Opposition opposing various other bits and pieces of legislation (I mean, how could an Opposition vote against legislation they oppose? How irresponsible!). If the Government proposes this tax again, and the Opposition rejects it again, the Government is then entitled to arrange a double dissolution and new elections. Then perhaps they could get a parliament that’s more cooperative.

But calling a snap election would be heavy-handed, and it would distract the Government from their mission to “fix” the economy, so they now prefer to threaten the Opposition with the prospect. The Opposition must know, as everyone else does, that they have very few supporters, that they’re wracked by internal division, and that they’re about as likely to win an election as… anyone else who’s not the Government. Any such election would be humiliating — and worse, it could lead to them being even less able to oppose the Government. A parliament more willing to cooperate with the Government by definition means one less willing to cooperate with the Opposition.

So when the Government says the last thing we need is elections, they’re not actually saying they’ll refuse to call any. They’re saying the opposite. They’re saying, “You know, Liberals, if you keep rejecting all our vital ‘health measures’ and taxes, we may have to consider calling another election. We don’t want to, but we’ll have to unless you start cooperating. And you don’t really want to face an election just yet, do you?”

The threat seems to have worked, too. The Opposition has promised to re-assess their position on the legislation when it’s presented again. I have to admit I’m unimpressed — Oppositions are supposed to oppose stupid legislation, it’s their job — but I suppose that’s just the way politics works in Australia. That is, with very little real opposition to things.

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  1. […] they did this without passing anything through parliament, Jayeless explains; The Government decided to start collecting this tax before it had been approved by […]

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