Add in Jimbo
4 March 2023
I was early off the mark to declare B1, Chris Bowen, and B2, Tony Burke, as ministers to watch in terms of implementing harmful and extreme policies. Bowen is, of course, Minister for Climate Change and Energy – note the order – and Burke is Employment and Industrial Relations Minister plus the Arts because he plays the guitar.
(Incidentally, have you noticed how Bowen has been trying to soften his image recently? There have been a few puff pieces in the newspapers. He’s aware that the electricity grid is looking increasingly fragile – the green-leaning Australian Energy Market Operator is trying to warn us but in the most euphemistic way possible. And, all of a sudden, he becomes the man who supports gas as a transition fuel. The delays in Snowy 2.0 and the Kurri Kurri gas plant, as well as the closure of the Liddell and Eraring coal-fired plants, are a very dangerous combination during a time frame in which B1 has grand political ambitions.)
I had to add Ed Husic, Industry and Science Minister, to the list: he increasingly sounds like an Australian-version of Che Guevara or Leon Trotsky. Then there is Jonesy, Stephen Jones, the Assistant Treasurer, who is so out of his depth, it’s funny. What he doesn’t know about superannuation could be contained in several volumes of Hansard. But that won’t stop him going around talking on the topic using the theme of class warfare as his guiding principle.
You have to wonder whether he had taken something – or forgotten to take something – when he started banging on about the worker bees needing to protect the superannuation hive. It sounded like a metaphor for socialism, which it probably was. You know the sort of thing: the collective is more important than the individual. Let’s face it, Jonesy just loves this stuff.
I wasn’t expecting to add Jimbo, our intrepid reformer of the capitalist system, to the list so quickly although he has been on my watch list. As the Treasurer of the country, he holds an important position as the last bastion of resistance to loony spending proposals from other ministers whose interest in budget management is nil.
Of course, had B1 not stuffed up with his insane proposal to get rid of cash refunds for franking credits while leaving the full benefits of these credits for wealthy folk completely intact, Bowen would have been Treasurer. That was the plan and Chalmers would have appreciated his true position in the pecking order. But when B1 told ordinary folk to vote against Labor if they didn’t like his crazy-brave proposal, it’s a wonder he survived at all in a Labor cabinet.
But let me get back to Jimbo. On achieving high office as our chief money man, he stood at a fork in the road. He could become a solid and cautious treasurer intent on repairing the budget after the pandemic splurge or he could become a reincarnation of Jim Cairns (with a touch of the Rex Connors thrown in).
There were some promising early signs: he killed the petrol excise rebate when the expiry date was due and he (sort of) refrained from spending all of the surging government revenue as a result of high commodity prices. He did, however, stumble by failing to include any fiscal rules in his first budget.
Since then, it’s been all downhill. Now it may seem like a small thing, but his fudging of the responsibility for the decision to exclude King Chuck from the $5 note was telling. If you believed Jimbo, the progressive folk down at the Reserve Bank had stuck their collective fingers out the window at Martin Place, had determined the zeitgeist and given King Charles III the old heave-ho. It was a first step to Australia becoming a republic, according to Jimbo.
The reality was that bank officials had consulted Jimbo and he told them he didn’t want Chuck on the note. So that was what was decided.
Is this too trivial to mention? But words and statements matter. Jimbo is always banging on about the ‘independent’ Reserve Bank to underline his point: blame the bank for rising mortgage rates, not him. He was also on the ‘transparency and integrity’ team with Albo during the election campaign.
It’s not clear what possessed him to write that long rambling essay in the Monthly. It may have been as simple as an offer being made by the magazine and Jimbo falling for that old flattery trick. The fact that sales soared briefly – even to those who strongly disagree with the points made in his socialism-inspired dissertation – made it an excellent commercial decision by the publisher.
The real value of the buzz word-laden treatise, inspired by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, adviser to that old lefty nutjob, Jeremy Corbyn, was that it gave us some powerful insights into Jimbo’s likely approach to his job. He has no intention of taking a conventional path as treasurer; he wants to reinvent capitalism single-handedly. It must be ‘values-driven’ – his values, presumably – and markets must be controlled to do the government’s bidding. It’s scary stuff. For this reason alone, he makes it onto my list.
Things have moved further south for Jimbo with his extremely unwise decision to initiate a debate about the purpose of superannuation. The timing of this was completely arbitrary; you might have thought he had enough on his plate without opening up several more fronts on what he has stupidly called the superannuation wars. (Laugh, I nearly choked when he declared that his preferred definition would bring the wars to an end.)
And here’s the wordy and vague definition preferred by Jimbo (with the avid assistance of Treasury which hates superannuation for higher-income people): ‘to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement, alongside government support, in an equitable and sustainable way’. Let’s be clear here: the adjective ‘dignified’ is straight from the wish-list of the union-controlled industry super funds. In time, 12 per cent will be seen as insufficient to lead to a dignified retirement – mark my words.
He prattles on about super funds undertaking investments with societal benefits and removing the tax concessions that rightly apply to compulsory savings. He obviously can’t spell retrospective because that’s what the changes would be unless they are grandfathered.
So, yep, Jimbo clearly deserves his place on the list. And it’s very unlikely he’ll be moving out of the premier league for ill-considered and destructive policies any time soon.