12 Oct James Paterson’s welcome lateral thinking
By Terry Barnes
Good on Victorian Liberal Senator James Paterson for his media campaign to sell Jackson Pollock’s drunken daub, Blue Poles, to help pay down the national debt. Forgive the puns, but he’s succeeded in framing the debate about debt reduction in a way that captured the imagination, and gave voters’ imaginations a real picture of practical action to stem the debt tide as the Senate prepares to grill ministers and bureaucrats over the budget bottom line at the latest round of Estimates hearings next week.
Encouraged by strong responses, both positive and negative, this young Lochinvar of the Senate extended his attack to needless, wasteful and utterly non-essential spending on spending on elite sports and sportspeople and that hotbed of loony leftiness, the arts. It’s worth pointing out, however, in relation to his ideas to defund elite sport, and his alternative plan that ego-stroked drones – er, elite sportspeople – should only get access to public funding on a repayable HECS-like basis, what Paterson proposes is identical to what was advocated by yours truly in The Spectator Australia two years ago.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Thanks James.
But Paterson is absolutely right to use his political influence in the Coalition party room to extend the fight against waste to the self-regarding poseur drones who infest sport and the yartz. He’s showing some welcome policy leadership to his Liberal parliamentary colleagues – who aren’t getting any such leadership from their Leader.
The powerful elite sport lobby, headed by the lavishly remunerated head of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, will soon be clamouring for even more taxpayer largesse after Australia’s mediocre performance at the Rio Olympics. Mr Coates hasn’t hesitated to use the ‘un-Australian’ line against politicians opposing his agenda, and he will do so again to secure an extra few hundred million or so to support unlikeable prats who, if they weren’t pampered elite sportspeople, have a lack of self-awareness that would make them ideal junior ministerial staffers: after all, elite swimmers also wear budgie-smugglers. If public funding can’t be turned off altogether, at least its outrageous growth can by stemmed MPs standing up to rent-seeking bullies like Mr Coates. Paterson’s fired a timely shot over their bows, and that’s a good thing for sound policy and budgetary prudence.
And as for the arts, all strength to the Paterson arm. If people don’t want to see it, read it, feel it, or smell it, taxpayers shouldn’t be obliged to pay for it. Let well-heeled private philanthropists, corporate sponsors, investors and ticket-buyers do it, if it has to be done at all. And it’s not as if it will cost the Coalition any luvvie votes. They never had ‘em in the first place…
In responding to Paterson about Blue Poles and his other ideas, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann cordially dismissed his suggestions but praised him, with casual condescension, for his ‘lateral thinking’. Surely such thinking should be praised and encouraged by ministers, not patronised, especially by one of the few Cabinet ministers minister who actually is performing well. Instead, Cormann should be calling for more Coalition MPs to emulate the enterprise of James Paterson; welcoming similar lateral backbench thinking for the budget’s (and the government’s) greater good. If they did, the Coalition party room could be the ideas factory it was in the peak Howard years, bubbling with enthusiasm and energising not just the parliamentary team but their supporter base too. If only.
When the Turnbull government already appears to be sleepwalking towards defeat whenever the next election is held, it’s up to the junior parliamentary ranks – including the class of 2016 whose maiden speeches show there is still some reformist fire in the Liberal belly – to step up where their seniors (with some honourable exceptions like Cormann) are flagging.
Well done Patto, and keep up the good work! Whether his Coalition Senate colleagues follow his example at next week’s Supplementary Estimates by asking bolshie questions of ministers and officials to justify dodgy spending and governance wherever they can find it, is another matter. Here’s hoping.