Unsustainable – code for “we’re going to cut it”

Unsustainable.

It seems every other Ministerial press release suddenly uses the word. It sounds dire, with vague threats of looming disaster, but without more information it’s just a word to scare children, or to excuse cuts.

Before the election, there were promises aplenty not to cut the core social services – health, education, welfare.

Suddenly, after the election, shock horror, none of these is “sustainable”, and something must be done (that is, the government is going to cut it). Examples: Hockey on the budget, on Medicare, on industry assistance, Andrews on social services, Pyne on education.

It’s such a weasel word. By when is it unsustainable? Unsustainable how – without changing the budget? Unsustainable under what assumptions – if nothing else changes? Unsustainable by design – meaning something we never intended to last forever? If you don’t say how, by when, and under what assumptions, it’s meaningless. But by the time it’s reduced to a news bite, it’s just “unsustainable”. Fait accompli.

Anything is unsustainable, given enough time, or the wrong assumptions. The entire Universe is unsustainable, for a start. Luckily, that’s more than one election away, so doesn’t concern the government.

Nearly all economic models are based on growth. Yet unlimited growth is clearly, obviously, unsustainable in a closed environment. Global population growth is unsustainable. The recent G20 “growth target” is  unsustainable if you project it out for long enough. But the areas the government is targeting seem curiously limited, mostly to things they promised before the election that they wouldn’t cut. Other spending is, curiously, still sustainable. Strange…

Let’s try adding some more, and see whether the government’s position is, er, sustainable:

Basing Australia’s economy on mining exports is unsustainable

Hint: because we will dig it all up one day, therefore it can’t be sustained. I haven’t heard the Treasurer or Industry Minister trumpeting this. Strange…

Basing our energy economy on oil and coal is unsustainable

Hint: they’re getting more and more expensive, and they’re going to run out. They also create unsustainable climate change that threatens us all. But the government killed off the alternative energy bodies and schemes, and abolished the Science Minister. Strange…

Denying climate change and refusing to factor it into planning is unsustainable

Hint: the Army believes in climate change; bush fire services believe in climate change; farmers believe in climate change; the Bureau of Meteorology believes in climate change, 99% of scientists who are qualified to speak on the matter confirm that climate change exists. Ignoring it is not sustainable, because it’s real. But the government says that every abnormal weather event is “just weather” and not due to climate change. Strange…

Spending $4 BILLION on planes is unsustainable

Hint: just as we could afford to give Cadbury some money, but couldn’t afford to give SPC Ardmona some money, so it would seem fair that the utility of spending $4 billion on planes should be examined again in light of the huge pressure that’s suddenly been discovered in health, pensions, social services and other areas. Shouldn’t it? All these unsustainable areas must call for a halt on huge expenditure like this. Shouldn’t it? Strange…

Falling further and further behind in network infrastructure is unsustainable

Hint: of all the important infrastructure required for the next century, roads on the ground will continue to be important, but roads around the world will be critical. We’re currently falling further and further behind our developed and developing competitors and partners. Eventually, we will join the also-rans. But the government killed off our network infrastructure project. Strange…

Continually increasing the pensionable age is unsustainable

Hint: we may be living longer, but our fitness to work and the range of jobs available for older Australians is not growing commensurately. Soon we will create a new poor, who cannot afford our health system, who cannot work, and whose only option is to become a burden on their children. But hang on, isn’t the government actively creating this problem? Strange…

Killing off the Great Barrier Reef is unsustainable

Hint: rising sea temperatures, increased shipping traffic, agricultural runoff and now dredging spoil are all threats to the reef. If we keep doing those things, it will die. But hang on, isn’t the government currently advocating we do this? Strange…

Logging old growth forests is unsustainable

Hint: because it takes a very long time for those trees to re-grow, therefore it can’t be sustained. But hang on, isn’t the government currently advocating we do this? Strange…

The list is pretty much endless, and I hope the point is clear. The government is being neither truthful nor consistent in its use of this bogey word, and if we had an Opposition  or an independent Fourth Estate they would be pointing this out clearly. Unfortunately, we don’t.

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