The Unintended Consequences of an Abbott Government

On September 7 it is likely Australians will deliver Tony Abbott and his Coalition a majority in the House of Representatives, making Mr. Abbott Australia’s 28th Prime Minister. There are many reasons to opt for this outcome: people are disappointed with Labor and tired of the political circus of the last few years. Yet we may end up getting more than they bargained for, with Abbott implementing an agenda that voters weren’t aware of or didn’t consider when they decided to vote for their local Liberal candidate. The unintended consequences of an Abbott Prime Ministership would weaken Australia’s prosperity and Australians’ wellbeing, and ought to be considered and understood before voting to give him control.

Abbott -> terrible internet

Australia’s internet speeds are almost the slowest in the OECD. Each of the old parties has a plan to change this, with both plans incorporating optic fibre technologies to improve data transmission speeds. The key difference is that Labor proposes “Fibre To The Premises” or FTTP, meaning that the optic fibres would directly link 93% of homes and businesses. The Coalition proposes “Fibre to the Node” or FTTN, in which the optic fibres lead to one of 60,000 cabinets, with the existing copper wire network (awkwardly, owned by Telstra) connecting premises to the node. By way of analogy, Labor’s proposal is like the existing electricity grid, which links generators and consumers with power lines leading to each house. The Coalition’s plan is like having power lines leading to a cabinet in your neighbourhood, and then connecting a long extension cord to that to power your entire house. While the Coalition’s plan is superficially cheaper and faster to build, you end up with slower speeds.

Why is this such a bad consequence? The 21st-century economy requires rapid internet speeds. If we are to compete with manufacturing giants like China, we need to have the best possible infrastructure in order to be globally competitive and able to maintain productivity growth. FTTP provides the fastest internet speeds currently possible and would facilitate a boom in the digital economy. And this economy isn’t just in penis enhancement: this is video editors in rural Australia able to do work for clients in South Korea, or a retiree able to set up their own online business marketing home-made products, or board meetings taking place in real-time by videoconference. In fact, the World Bank described investment in faster internet as “no regrets”. “…it will certainly benefit the economy as a whole and therefore the indirect benefits…are substantial,” the World Bank’s lead ICT policy specialist, Dr Tim Kelly, told Computerworld Australia. “…the broader, intangible benefits of investment in broadband mean that it is rarely, if ever, a bad investment.”

FTTN is slower and so would not only hamper this boom, it would require upgrading much sooner than FTTH, and would thus be more expensive overall. And there is no direct upgrade path. Writes Mark Newton, network engineer from Internode, “If someone is going to contrast FTTN against FTTP/FTTH, it’s important that they understand…there’s no upgrade path from one to the other….If an FTTN network is built you’d better like it, because it’ll be around for a long, long time to come.”

The NBN is a big infrastructural project comparable to the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme. These projects are expensive, and they take a long time. But they are genuine investments. Cutting corners on such a project is penny-wise and pound-foolish. The Coalition’s plan is like building the Sydney Harbour Bridge with only two lanes. And if Tony Abbott becomes PM, that’s what we get stuck with.

Abbott would forfeit the clean energy race

Governments should be encouraging the deployment of clean, safe sources of energy that never run out. The world is shifting in this direction, with global net investment in renewable energy outpacing that in fossil fuels, and with some renewable energy sources now cheaper than coal. In addition, cleaning our energy supply is better for air quality and public health and it’s also what Australians want. As if that wasn’t good enough, clean energy makes electricity cheaper for everyone, thanks to the merit order effect.

But it’s not what the Coalition’s donors want. That’s why the Coalition plans to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and to possible reduce the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET), measures which would hamstring the growth of clean energy.

The CEFC and the MRET are designed to correct market failures, enabling an efficient market to adequately value the benefits that renewable energies offer. Renewable energy has ‘positive externalities’, benefits to our society which the market doesn’t recognise, and there is thus a role for Government to incentivise investment in renewable energy in order to realise these benefits. The CEFC seeks to do this by encouraging private sector investment in renewable energy projects, and the MRET does this by requiring electricity utilities to cultivate renewable energy as part of their supply pool.

Without these measures Australia would get left behind in the clean energy race, as other countries sprinted to the front of the pack. China recently increased its investment in renewable power, while Germany is currently powered 25% by the sun and the wind. Under Tony Abbott, Australia would continue to sink money into anachronistic fossil fuel projects. Our electricity would cost more and these costs would keep increasing as fossil fuels become more scarce and expensive. Our air would be more polluted and coal communities would continue to suffer from cancer and respiratory illnesses. It would, in short, suck.

Hello Abbott, goodbye women’s reproductive rights!

Tony Abbott will probably get majority control of the lower house, forming Government. Many people want this. But he might also be in a position to negotiate majority control of the upper house, the Senate. If this is the case, Tony Abbott would have to come to an agreement with John Madigan, the sole senate representative of the fundamentalist, uber-conservative Democratic Labor Party. And what would Mr. Madigan be asking for in this deal? Restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. Even though he has pledged not to legislate on this himself, Mr. Abbott is still amenable to Madigan’s view. So women who voted for Mr. Abbott because they think Rudd is a smarmy git may face the unintended consequence of losing autonomy over their own bodies.

Who knows what else?

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If Mr. Abbott did a deal with John Madigan to get control of the Senate in addition to the House of Representatives, there would be no review, no checks and balances, no accountability. It would be the same parliamentary situation as the one in which Prime Minister Howard went too far and stripped back your rights at work with his retrograde WorkChoices legislation. With unmitigated, unhampered power, Mr. Abbott – who finds homosexuality threatening, who objectifies women, who has “no interest in economics and has no feeling for it” – could do whatever he wanted.

Don’t let it happen.

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