May 1, 2016

Editor’s Note

Editor’s Note May 2016

By Nick Feik

“Our prime minister says that we must ‘live within our means’,” writes Don Watson. “The treasurer and the minister for finance both say it. As is the custom, having said it once, they have said it again and again.”

It’s not the only thing on repeat at the moment. The Coalition government, in the heat of the pre-election campaign, has reverted to Abbott-era type. Any semblance of the adult, process-driven government promised by Malcolm Turnbull has been tossed aside for an all-out rhetoric-driven assault on voters’ intelligence. The past week has been all about carbon-tax scares, massive defence spending, Labor’s fiscal irresponsibility and a secure Australia.

Treasurer Scott Morrison is facing the biggest test of his career with the 3 May budget. Rather than prepare the policy ground, he has spent recent interviews repeating idiocies: the proposal to apply negative-gearing tax concessions only to new housing stock has been dubbed “Labor’s housing tax”; real-estate owners who benefit from negative gearing are now “mum and dad investors”; and everything the Labor Party does is “the old economy way of tax and spend” (what does that even mean?). The Coalition’s message has shifted constantly – apparently a plan for “jobs and growth” doesn’t require a consistent position on income tax, GST or corporate tax rates, negative-gearing concessions, corporate tax avoidance, federal–state relations, manufacturing or climate-change policy, or indeed much at all.

If this is the tenor of the campaign to come, Tony Abbott may be proven right: the Liberal Party would have been better sticking with him. At least his slogans worked.

This month, Richard Denniss explores the true cost of such policy incoherence. In his essay, ‘Crunch Time’, he writes:

While minimising the price of naval defence vessels was the priority of a newly elected Abbott government that was focused on a “budget emergency”, maximising jobs for the workers in marginal seats is [now] the priority … As the Liberal primary vote declined, and Nick Xenophon announced he would run candidates in Pyne’s seat and in other marginals, the Liberal Party’s awareness of the link between public spending on naval defence and “jobs and growth” has become acute.

The Coalition’s only plan for the car industry was to manage its decline, and now the price for keeping a manufacturing sector in South Australia has risen to $50 billion. “Living within your means” is measured by a different standard when electorates are on the line.

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.

@nickfeik

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