Monday, 8 August 2011


BARNABY Joyce should sue Tony Abbott for unfair dismissal. And the Canberra press gallery should hang their heads in shame. 18 months ago, the Queensland senator, in his newly appointed role as shadow finance minister, was brave and prescient enough to make a very big call. He warned the US could soon go belly up.

Like a bunch of kids hurling abuse at the village idiot the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, and the media immediately ridiculed Joyce to the point where Abbott, in an atypically cowardly act, turfed him out of his job. A job, it now appears, Joyce is arguably more suited to than any of the myopic individuals who actually hold the purse strings of our collective wealth.

The analytical and intuitive gift of correctly foreseeing future events and warning of their consequences is one of the most precious a politician can possess. Being brave enough to voice such predictions is another. Churchill warned his skeptical party of the dangers of the Third Reich long before anyone else. Reagan was mocked for predicting how vulnerable the Soviet system was, while the rest of the world trembled in fear. De Gaulle foresaw today's EU while the rest of Europe was scrabbling about in the rubble of World War II.

The interwoven threads that create the patterns of history appear to most of us at the time as a confused tangle. Having the clairvoyant's knack of accurately imagining where they will take us can give a nation a huge tactical advantage. Barnaby Joyce may employ the blunt rhetoric of his country constituency, but I'll take his challenging predictions any day over the evasive, patronising platitudes of Swan, Gillard, or Hockey.

On December 11, 2009, in an interview with The Age, Joyce said he "did not want to alarm the public," but believed we needed a ''contingency plan'' for a sovereign debt default by the US. If the US were to default it could trigger an ''economic Armageddon'' that would "make the (GFC) pale into insignificance."  Sounds pretty reasonable so far. Isn't this what we demand of our political leaders; to have their wits about them enough to warn us of potential threats to our wealth? ‘Armageddon’ might be a tad hyperbolic, but certainly no more so than the “environmental Armageddon” we’re daily threatened with.

``A default by the US means complete economic collapse around the world and the question we have got to ask ourselves is where are we in that?'' Joyce said. While predicting that the chances of a US default were "distant but real," he worried that politicians "were not doing the electorate a favor" if they refused to address the risk. "If America collapses there will be no more sale of Chinese products to America and therefore very little purchase of Australian resources by China.'' He also questioned our own debt levels, and ability to repay them.

Treasurer Wayne Swan, who since 2007 has not made a single accurate prediction about anything, let alone financial matters, immediately savaged Joyce as being "from the reactionary fringe." Ken Henry leapt in, admonishing Joyce for raising "hypotheticals that are that extreme" because it might "frighten people."

Yet it's perfectly acceptable for the government to frighten us constantly with wild predictions of rising sea levels and melting polar caps to justify a new tax?

The Herald’s Peter Hartcher concluded that although a US default was possible Joyce had "the potential to be extremely dangerous to the national interest" and referred to his “bumbling manner and madcap style.”  Political website Crikey crowed that "the chances of the US defaulting on its debt remain highly unlikely." Fairfax economics writer Jessica Irving lampooned Joyce as a “boofhead.”

Wayne Swan elevated the debate to his own intellectual level by describing Senator Joyce as "Barnaby Rubble" (he lives in the Stone Age - get it?), while finance minister Lindsay Tanner scathingly dismissed Joyce as "a freak show". Labor’s competition minister Craig Emerson sneered at Joyce’s “whacko economics.” And it wasn't only Labor who put the boot in. One Liberal MP reportedly claimed that fellow parliamentarians "cringed" when Senator Joyce spoke, while another apparently said that "there is not a single colleague in the Liberal Party that has any faith (in Senator Joyce). Everyone is just going tick, tick, tick, tick."

Meanwhile the countdown to a potential American default also went "tick, tick, tick." Not that our elected officials cared. They had more important matters to deal with, such as flogging a couple of dodgy new taxes, saving face on the boatpeople fiascos, and, er, that's about it.

Here's a spot of clairvoyancy of my own. When the history books are written next century, the impact of the US debt and defaults crises on the West's declining economies will merit a chapter all of its own. ‘Climate change’ will be lucky to get a wry paragraph, ‘the Malaysian solution’ a scathing sentence or two, and the ‘NBN’ a footnote under the heading Obsolescent Technology.

When, in March 2010, Tony Abbott buckled to the baying mob and dumped Barnaby from his job, The Age’s Michelle Grattan approvingly noted "Abbott has done the right thing in shifting Joyce. Finance has never been a good fit for the man... Joyce was not seen by business or by colleagues as up to heavy lifting in the economic area."

This week, Obama and Congress worked on a band-aid deal that sees a few spending cuts and the debt ceiling reduced to… oops, I mean increased to a staggering 17 trillion dollars. If the US dodges a bullet, it’s only temporarily. The threat that Joyce alone was prescient enough to warn us of still lingers. We as a nation are not even remotely prepared. Who knows what consequences a US default in twelve or eighteen months time could have upon us? Not our government or opposition, that's for sure.

They've been far too busy arguing about windmills and boat people to have time for such trivial matters as America going down the gurgler.

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