Thursday, October 11, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Tax, tax, tax, tax and tax
The PM has sharpened his bludgeon


Announcing the fast-tracking of small business tax cuts at The Australian’s Outlook Conference in Melbourne today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was no doubt glad of the opportunity to draw attention away from the rising tide of public anger about discrimination against LGBTI students, the Sydney Opera House debacle and the crater that is his government’s climate change policy. Pulling forward small business tax cuts is not new policy, given it was announced under former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, but it’s the newest thing Morrison has got to work with, and at this point in the cycle there seems to be not much else in the Coalition’s barest of policy cupboards.

Even former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello attacked the government’s missing economic narrative today, both under the serving PM and his predecessor: “When Malcolm Turnbull challenged in 2015, he said there was no economic narrative. I agreed … but I kept waiting for an economic narrative. I’m still not sure what the narrative is.”

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said much the same thing at a doorstop outside the conference: “Scott Morrison had one idea. One idea. Which was tax cuts for business. He’s still only got one idea. But having failed to get big business tax cuts through, he’s now gone and said they will do the small business tax cuts more quickly. That’s all they’ve got. Now when we respond to that, we will also be pointing out all our other policies which engender economic growth.”

Bowen was treading carefully, however, and did not rule out supporting the policy. As the AFR’s political editor, Phillip Coorey, pointed out [$] this morning, the government is trying to set a trap for Labor, forcing it to either back the earlier tax cuts or go to the next election with a policy to increase taxes for small and medium businesses. Bill Shorten had to backpedal in the middle of the year over whether Labor would support tax cuts for businesses with an annual turnover between $10 million and $50 million.

In principle, if it can be afforded, cutting taxes for small and medium businesses is a good idea, although only the most gullible punter would imagine that those tax cuts will flow through to higher wages for employees. According to the AFR, the annual forecast cost of about $3.6 billion will be offset by an estimated $1.3 billion in savings because the big business tax cuts have been abandoned.

No doubt there are far more important and urgent things that could be done with the revenue that will be lost to the Commonwealth – like increasing Newstart, for example – but that’s a whole other argument.

After the trauma of the leadership coup, the election campaign is beginning in earnest, with the substance and tempo of announcements picking up noticeably this week. The prime minister has augmented the barrage of slogans to be fired off relentlessly: first we had the attack on Shorten as “union bred, union fed and union led”. On the ABC’s AM program this morning, we heard a second: “[Labor’s] five point plan, is tax, tax, tax, tax and tax.” It may be empty, but it rams the point home. Morrison is no waffler, adding the memorable line: “Every time you hear Bill Shorten talking, he is increasing your taxes.”

It’s clearly a deliberate strategy, as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg tweeted yesterday:

@billshortenmp’s 5 point plan:

1. New tax on your income

2. New tax on your savings

3. New tax on your property

4. New tax on your business

5. New tax on your electricity

Totalling over $200b from the pockets of Australians.

It’s not an economic narrative, it’s an assault.

since this morning

Federal police are raiding the Department of Home Affairs over leaks in relation to the au pair affair that embroiled cabinet minister Peter Dutton last month.

The New Daily reports that Commonwealth Bank chief executive Matt Comyn has drawn howls of laughter from an audience in the public gallery as he tried to answer questions during an interrogation by the House of Representative’s standing committee on economics.

The Australian share market fell 2 per cent this morning and a “significant correction” may be looming, according to the ABC. “There were several things that were very, very positive economic news, which markets took as a bad sign,” said one analyst.

in case you missed it

Key crossbench senators Derryn Hinch and Rex Patrick have told The Guardian that the government should not expand religious schools’ right to fire gay teachers and expel gay students. Hinch also called for the government to strip public funds from schools that discriminate on the basis of sexuality.

The AFR reports [$] that the nation’s energy companies and biggest electricity users, led by the Business Council of Australia, have given up on politics and begun backroom talks about a self-regulated package of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, restore energy reliability and improve investor stability.

A dozen economists and scientists with climate expertise reject the government’s claim that Australia is on track to meet its Paris emissions targets, according to The Guardian.

The Australian reports [$] that Labor would establish a Council of Australian Governments economic reform council, with an independent board and a mandate to develop the agenda for COAG meetings and monitor the body’s performance. Labor is also open to formalising the Board of Treasurers, established last year by the state and territory treasurers, saying it could strengthen federalism in Australia, performing a similar role to the National Governors Association in the US.

Alison Croggon
‘Watt’ at the Melbourne International Arts Festival
Beckett’s knotty novel is masterfully interpreted for stage by Barry McGovern

by JM Coetzee
A certain madness
Beneath the surface comedy of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Watt’ lies a metaphysical quest to know the unknowable

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


The Monthly Today

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The Opposition risks becoming a rabble

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Peter Dutton’s fearmongering is despicable

From the front page

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

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