Friday, May 11, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Pub test: what budget?
Competing tax cuts are not a gripping vision for the nation


In Riverwood, in Sydney’s south-west, they’re not exactly buzzing from Bill Shorten’s flying visit 10 days ago. His much-hyped sixty-somethingth town-hall-style meeting, which filled the drab community centre halfway down Belmore Road on May 1 and got some great coverage in The Sydney Morning Herald, has not left a lasting impression. In fact, of the 15 or so people I spoke to today, none had attended. On balance, however, the Opposition leader has had a bit more success at cutting through with his reply to this week’s federal budget. That is, among those locals able to comment. At least half the punters approached on a windy Friday afternoon have no opinion, have limited English, or admit they haven’t been following it.

Riverwood is in the federal electorate of Banks, a Liberal marginal seat that is narrowly held by assistant finance minister David Coleman – which is no doubt why Shorten decided to come here in the first place. My chosen pub is the Riverwood Sports and Recreation Club, just across from the station. It’s almost empty at noon, but a couple of pensioners are happy enough to talk. The first, a silvery 71-year-old in a tracksuit top, tells me that he supports the government’s tax cuts, but thinks the more radical reform in the out years will be blocked by Labor and the Greens. He objects to Labor’s plan to do away with cash refunds on unused franking credits; even though he has no shares himself, and gets no dividend income, he knows people who do, and says they need the money. He voted Liberal in 2013, but gave up in disgust after Tony Abbott was knifed by Malcolm Turnbull. He left his ballot paper blank in 2016 and felt good about it – he’s going to do it again next time round. His mate tells me that there’s nothing in the budget for pensioners, but he’s voting Labor, for what it’s worth.

A middle-aged carer, an electrician by trade, tells me he’s glad of the extra aged-care funding, but is yet to sit down and work out which tax package he likes better. He’s a swinging voter – he’s even voted for the Greens, but is leaning to Labor at the moment. The return to surplus? “It’s a number,” he says. “What does it mean? Will they get there?” He couldn’t care less about a balanced budget, it being subject to world markets and the vagaries of politics. What he does care about is getting the national debt down – otherwise the interest will keep piling up, he says quite rightly.

There’s no women in the club, except in the “VIP” gaming room. On Belmore Road, a 25-year-old nursing student from Tonga tells me that she voted the way her dad told her last time – she can’t remember which party – and has no comment on this week’s federal budget, except to say “the what?” She’s happy to tell me about her budget though: she applied for Centrelink assistance two months ago, and is still waiting for her money. Another middle-aged woman I approach waves me away except to say, when I ask her about tax cuts, “I’d rather have a pay rise.”

Near the station, a Croatian retiree tells me that she has always voted Labor, and will again. A 24-hour news junkie, she is not a party member and missed Shorten at the community centre last week, but did see him the time before that and snapped a selfie with him. She tells me: “The Liberals give more for the banks, for the big companies … so, if you ask me, I like more how Mr Shorten [was] talking yesterday. I like his budget, what he think to do for us normal people. I don’t like Liberal at all. They think just about themselves. They need to do more for the middle class, not just a few people at the top.” As for her two daughters (and five grandkids), she’s not absolutely certain, but one of them is a Labor voter and – she has a sneaking suspicion – the other one might vote Liberal now.

I speak to a late-30s mum from Campbelltown, on $40,000-plus a year, who’s just knocked off work and is buying a banh mi. With her partner on about $50,000-plus, they stand to benefit from both Liberal and Labor tax cuts, and with a mortgage, new car, and two kids, this mum says she voted Labor last time (“I’m a Labor girl”) but is remaining neutral until she has read through both packages: “I have to look at what is in it for us, before I swing which way.”

The Vietnamese woman making the banh mi lives locally and voted Labor last time around. She liked the budget, and thinks she’ll benefit from the tax cut, but she’s leaning towards Labor again. Her conversation got shorter, however, when the man who must run the shop returned. I paid $4 for my sugar cane juice and left.

since this morning

Four children and three adults have been found dead [$] on a rural Western Australian property in what could be Australia’s first mass shooting since the Port Arthur massacre.

Labor MP Anne Aly has released a letter from the Egyptian embassy clarifying her citizenship, which she says has “put the matter to rest, once and for all”, but The Australian says [$] that “questions remain”.

Gas company Linc Energy has been fined a record $4.5 million for causing serious environmental harm at its underground coal gasification plant on Queensland’s western Darling Downs.

The Mercury reports that emergency service crews have conducted three rescues among hundreds of call-outs during an overnight flood event that stunned Hobart with its ferocity.

in case you missed it

The Guardian reports that Labor will almost double the Coalition’s tax cut and that it will also fund TAFE places.

Federal Liberal backbencher Sarah Henderson has revealed [$] that she will second fellow rural Liberal Sussan Ley’s private members’ bill to phase out long-haul live sheep exports.

Glencore is Australia’s number one tax dodger, according to, having paid zero tax on $27.9 billion in total income over the past three years. Number two was ExxonMobil, and number three was EnergyAustralia.

by Oslo Davis
In Light of Recent Events
Courtroom sketching
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by Harry Windsor
‘The Alienist’: a gripping but imperfect thriller
Forensic psychology powers this lavish series, but is one of its less interesting features

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.

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