WE CAN’T GET CAUGHT BY THE GREECE TRAP

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

Greeks aren’t bludgers. That’s not what’s driven their econ­omy over the same age­ing cliff we’re head­ing for. For­get that idea, be­cause it blinds us to the ur­gent les­son from Greece de­fault­ing on its mas­sive debts.

For­get this sneer­ing about lazy Greeks do­ing the Mediter­ranean mana on money bor­rowed from hard- work­ing Ger­mans, be­cause OECD fig­ures tell a dif­fer­ent story.

In fact, Greek work­ers put in 42 hours in the av­er­age week, while Ger­mans knock off af­ter about 35.

True, those hours are of­ten spent sit­ting in a shop till mid­night, or in a gov­ern­ment of­fice count­ing pa­per­clips or on a farm chas­ing goats while Ger­mans are build­ing Mercedes. We’re not talk­ing pro­duc­tive here.

Then there’s that other whinge about Greek work­ers down­ing tools too young.

Some truth in that, sure, given Greek men on av­er­age re­tire at 63, but that’s just one year ear­lier than Ger­mans — hardly a telling dif­fer­ence.

They also re­tire on less money by our stan­dards — about $ 300 a week — al­beit only af­ter Greece was forced by Euro­pean lenders to slash pen­sions by a third.

No, the Greeks aren’t lazy. Just greedy — and in that en­vi­ous way so typ­i­cal of coun­tries run too long by the Left.

Greece, still boast­ing that it’s the cra­dle of democ­racy, fancies it’s Euro­pean and can pay peo­ple Euro­pean- style wel­fare, par­tic­u­larly Euro- pean- style pen­sions.

But Greece is no Ger­many. It’s a poor coun­try with rich tastes, and far too many tax dodgers and public ser­vants to pay for them.

What’s now helped to turn this so­cial­ist folly into a full- scale dis­as­ter is that it’s been hit by the same truck that’s com­ing our way.

Greece is now a coun­try of old peo­ple — the most el­derly in Europe af­ter Ger­many and Italy, and the sixth old­est in the world — with more pen­sion­ers each year to feed.

It now has a fer­til­ity rate of just 1.34 chil­dren for each woman, way be­low the re­place­ment level of 2.1. Its pop­u­la­tion last year fell.

What’s more, the old now live longer. Re­sult: in the past 45 years the pro­por­tion of Greeks aged over 65 years has dou­bled to 20 per cent.

That means twice as many work­ers are needed to pay for each pen­sioner, and that job has got much harder be­cause one in four work­ers are unem- ployed and need­ing wel­fare them­selves. The con­se­quences of this age­ing, plus a strug­gling econ­omy, have been dis­as­trous.

Greece’s pen­sions bill jumped from 11.7 per cent of GDP be­fore the 2007 fi­nan­cial cri­sis to 16.2 per cent. The Euro­pean Union av­er­age is 12 per cent.

So how has Greece paid for all these pen­sions, plus the rest of its bloated public sec­tor?

Sim­ple. It bor­rowed big from Europe, in the same mad way that caused it to de­fault five times be­fore in two cen­turies.

The na­tional debt now works out to $ 30,000 for each Greek man, woman and child, with no hope of re­pay­ment.

Kick­ing Greeks for be­ing wastrels is now the rage, made eas­ier by the fact its gov­ern­ment con­tains a clown show of so­cial­ists, ex- com­mu­nists and loud- mouth pop­ulists.

But Greece could be our fu­ture, too, if we don’t smarten up. True, we’re richer than Greece and plan­ning bet­ter. We’re a lit­tle more fer­tile and age­ing slower. But all signs point to the same des­ti­na­tion.

Our fer­til­ity rate is 1.88 ba­bies per woman and we’re liv­ing much longer, so by 2050 each Aus­tralian worker will have to sup­port twice as many peo­ple over 65.

With­out re­forms, our pen­sions bill will go through the roof, just as has Greece’s.

In fact, Aus­tralia’s so­cial ser­vices spend­ing is al­ready so high the gov­ern­ment must bor­row nearly $ 100 mil­lion a day.

Again, let’s not ex­ag­ger­ate. We are at nowhere near Greek lev­els of debt and not likely to be, un­less we dodge re­form and China re­ally tanks.

But the pres­sure is on to ad­just, and too many politi­cians and com­men­ta­tors seem as re­luc­tant as the Greeks to do it.

It took huge pres­sure from its Euro­pean cred­i­tors to make Greece cut pen­sions and jack up the re­tire­ment age from a lu­di­crous 57 to to­day’s 67.

But noth­ing will force Aus­tralia to take its medicine other than our own sweet rea­son, which is in short sup­ply.

True, Trea­surer Joe Hockey and So­cial Ser­vices Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son did last month fi­nally per­suade the Greens to help pass mod­est cuts to the as­sets test for pen­sion­ers, against La­bor’s mind­less op­po­si­tion.

But Hockey was smashed when he tried to raise the pen­sion age from 67 to 70, and other cuts to so­cial se­cu­rity hand- outs have been blocked.

Those bat­tles re­main and must be won. If you doubt it, check out Greece.

Jonathan Green, Emma Al­berici, Fran Kelly, Rafael Ep­stein and Annabel Crabb, joined Scott in de­fend­ing Q& A, with Media Watch host Paul Barry abus­ing the ABC’s crit­ics as “the usual sus­pects”, “shock­jocks” and “a lynch mob ... bay­ing for blood”.

Q& A host Tony Jones him­self showed lit­tle re­morse on Mon­day’s show, sug­gest­ing Mal­lah had put ques­tions we should dis­cuss and in­sist­ing the ABC had to present “a di­ver­sity of per­spec­tives”. A di­ver­sity, hey? Then why couldn’t the ABC, our big­gest media or­gan­i­sa­tion, find a sin­gle ABC pre­sen­ter to at­tack Q& A?

Isn’t the ABC re­quired by the ABC Act to be bal­anced?

Un­der pres­sure, the ABC board yesterday com­mis­sioned an in­quiry into Q& A and its bias, but has en­sured it is in sym­pa­thetic ide­o­log­i­cal hands, ap­point­ing jour­nal­ist Ray Martin and for­mer SBS boss Shaun Brown. No, the ABC is sorry for noth­ing. It shows no in­ten­tion of re­form­ing the in­her­ent bias that pro­duced this group­think and Mal­lah’s in­vi­ta­tion.

This is the Left in­sist­ing on to­tal con­trol of a broad­caster too big for a healthy democ­racy, with four TV sta­tions, five ra­dio sta­tions, an online news­pa­per, a pub­lish­ing house and shops.

So if the ABC can­not be re­formed? What then? The axe, surely.

ART­WORK BY TERRY PON­TIKOS

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