‘A very unusual conjunction of events’ is how the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, explained away his decision to junk his long-promised and most precious of political commodities, the much-vaunted 2012-13 surplus. Of course, the most unusual of all these events was the fact that Mr Swan ever made such a commitment in the first place.

As Peter Costello amusingly pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald in October, this was the most oft-promised surplus in modern history, having been announced to great fanfare on no fewer than six separate occasions over three separate financial years. ‘Never before in the history of budgeting has so little been promised so often,’ he wrote.

Economists may choose to pore over the ramifications of this latest announcement, delivered on a hot summer’s afternoon when most people were too busy worrying about the Christmas shopping or spiralling air-conditioning bills to pay much attention. But it is the insight into Labor’s machinations of incompetence and deceit that is more pertinent.

Back in 2010, when Australians were reeling from the rapidity with which Rudd and Swan squandered billions of their dollars on unproductive school halls and the like, the word ‘surplus’ was like a soothing balm on a gaping sore. Before too long, and as an election came and went, the act of promising a surplus somehow morphed into the act of actually delivering one. ‘We are the party that delivers a surplus,’ was a common justification from any number of government ministers to questions of profligacy.

Billions more for education. Billions for the NDIS. Billions for the NBN. Solving climate change. Spreading the boom. The pattern just keeps repeating itself. Feelgood promises delivered on the never-never.

The reality has been quite different. The mining tax failed to raise a brass razoo. Doha ended with a commitment to squander billions more and, er, that was about it. Educationally, our kids are bottom of the class when it comes to developed countries. Those over 65 won’t get a cent out of the NDIS, if it ever materialises.

As incompetence and ideology drain our national reserves and commit us to expenditure we cannot afford, Labor’s scramble for moolah in hidden shoeboxes becomes more frantic by the day.

The latest victims of Labor’s dash for cash are our foreign aid recipients, now being called upon to cough up $375 million to fund border protection. The clammy hands of Bob Carr and Wayne Swan are now reaching into African begging bowls to fund asylum-seekers. Yet the spin continues, shamelessly.

‘Money spent on refugees within a country is legitimate aid,’ claims Senator Carr, a renowned master of spin. It’s a disingenuous argument. Siphoning off aid money committed elsewhere is, according to World Vision chief executive Tim Costello, ‘an insult to the world because of the promises we have made’.

Broken promises from Labor? Nonsense. Just more ‘unusual events’.

Better things to do

‘Absolutely staggering’ is how an indignant Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, responded to Tony Abbott’s admission that he hadn’t got around to reading Steven Rares’ judgment in the Peter Slipper/James Ashby affair.

Clearly, Ms Roxon needs to fine-tune the dial on her outrage-ometer. In the past, she has equally found herself ‘staggered’ by levels of obesity in Australia, stunned by the ‘ludicrous’ workings of a Kevin Rudd cabinet, and horrified by logos on cigarette packs.

But why should Mr Abbott read the judgment, when it fails to answer the most pertinent question? Did the Speaker sexually harass his employee? Yes or no?

Justice Rares squibbed the opportunity to determine if a crime took place, taking the politically convenient way out by dismissing the entire affair. The Commonwealth also ducked the issue, paying Ashby off with $50,000 of taxpayers’ money.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious crime. But Justice Rares appears to suggest that a ‘political’ component negates the need to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

Worse, in order to justify dismissing the case, Justice Rares has in effect labeled James Ashby, Mal Brough and Karen Doane (two of whom weren’t even party to the proceedings) ‘guilty’ of a different crime without offering them the chance to defend themselves. Arguably, such a ruling negates the laws of natural justice, the first of which states that: ‘a decision maker must afford an opportunity to be heard to a person whose interests will be adversely affected by the decision.’

To attack Tony Abbott for not studying every word of this unsatisfactory judgment is absurd. Besides, he had far more important things to do on his trip abroad. His Spectator Australia diary, for one.