Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

“Turnbull’s battlers”, anyone?
The prime minister is uniquely ill-equipped for class warfare


The prime minister yesterday coined a new term of abuse – aspiration denial – to be hurled at Labor from now until the next election. Yet surely not even Malcolm Turnbull believes that a debating tactic so brazenly hypocritical can work? That he, who inherited a fortune and is now a squillionaire, schooled at the elite Sydney Grammar, with degrees from Sydney and Oxford universities, can accuse the Labor front bench – or anyone else – of being educated elites who are out of touch with working Australians? The PM is attempting to pull off a Howard, appealing to aspirational, middle Australia. As a reality check, try to picture “Turnbull’s battlers”. It’s hard – probably because they don’t exist. Turnbull remains preferred PM by a decent margin, but he is uniquely unsuited to waging class war, which suggests that under his leadership the Coalition, not Labor, has most to lose from an election fought on competing plans to cut taxes.

Back in early 2016, when Turnbull was still in his honeymoon phase, and difficult policy options were still on the table (including a higher GST), it seemed possible that he could repeat former Liberal leader John Hewson’s “unlosable election” experience of 1993: when a former banker from Wentworth attempts to convince ordinary Australians that they should pay more for everything. As it happened, Turnbull baulked at that prospect, jettisoned the “tax mix switch”, and his government began its long descent towards the narrowest of election wins.

Perhaps Turnbull is emboldened by US president Donald Trump, a billionaire with blue-collar appeal. Trump won, however, by adopting a protectionist policy agenda that led former US ambassador Kim Beazley to describe him in late 2016 as “the most left-wing US presidential candidate since World War Two”. Turnbull is no populist: he’s quite the opposite, and his government’s policy agenda is exactly the same trickle-down economic rationalism that many Australians seem nowadays to be rejecting in favour of the approach of minor parties like the Greens or One Nation.

At the time of writing, the Senate had knocked back stage three of the government’s tax plan (which abolishes the 37.5 per cent income tax rate from 2024) in what The Guardian reported as a tactical win for Labor, with debate set to resume this evening. It is a mug’s game trying to analyse where One Nation’s crucial two votes might end up on the government’s income and company tax cuts – we might as well use a dartboard. But for argument’s sake, let’s assume that sometime between now and the end of next week, the government’s whole income tax plan passes. Then the Coalition must mount a scare campaign based on Labor’s plan to repeal tax cuts to be delivered from 2022, for those earning more than $95,000, which is quite a narrow pitch.

Turnbull can shout himself hoarse on the politics of envy – it will always bounce back at him, or come out wrong, as when he attempts to side with a 60-year-old aged-care worker in Burnie, but ends up talking about the aged-care worker “getting a better job”. Meanwhile, parliamentary theatrics aside, what counts in the real world is announcements like Telstra’s today, that it will cut 8000 jobs over the next three years, or the looming pay cut for anyone who earns penalty rates. As columnist Jenna Price wrote in Fairfax papers last week, based on ACTU figures: a permanent retail worker on Level 1 wages, working eight hours each day from last Saturday to Monday, would until now have received $1018 in her pay packet. From July 1, that same worker will get $132 less each week, for the same hours on the same days. Meanwhile, Price wrote, Malcolm Turnbull will get a pay rise of more than $200 a week. How is that fair?

since this morning

According to the AFR, the Australian National Audit Office has found [$] that the federal government’s crackdown on foreign property buyers has so far failed due to “serious deficiencies” in the data it relies on, meaning many sales are not reported.

The Australian Electoral Commission has changed the name of the Melbourne electorate of Batman to Cooper in commemoration of Indigenous rights activist William Cooper. The move has been labelled a victory for “common sense” by Indigenous leader Warren Mundine.

Telstra shares dropped more than 5 per cent to a seven-year low in morning trade after the telco announced a drastic plan to cut costs, which includes a reduction of 8000 jobs from its workforce, amounting to about a quarter of its total headcount.

in case you missed it

The Australian Human Rights Commission has launched a year-long national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment, which will be an “in-depth examination” of the issue, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said.

Australians’ trust in the US to “act responsibly in the world” has plummeted to its lowest level yet, according to the annual Lowy Institute poll of Australian attitudes to the world, with Donald Trump’s presidency of acutely impacting their perception of Australia’s key security ally. The poll also found that a majority of Australians believe immigration is too high, and that concern about climate change is rising along with support for renewable energy.

In The Guardian, Saba Vasefi and Ben Doherty write that the mother of asylum seeker Fariborz Karami, who killed himself on Nauru last week, wrote warning letters for months about her sons’ health in the Australian-run detention centre.

A Newspoll conducted for The Australian has found [$] that Bill Shorten is clawing back critical electoral ground lost under the Rudd-Gillard government’s failed asylum-seeker policies, with the trust gap between the Labor leader and Malcolm Turnbull on the issue narrowing to its closest margin since they became rivals.

Renew Economy reports that Genex Power has landed $516 million in concessional finance from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility for its world-leading solar and pumped hydro storage project in north Queensland.

by Richard Cooke
Tired of Winning
The blue wave versus the cult of Trump
Virginia’s bizarre primaries give a taste of what’s to come this election season

by Jessica Au
Storyteller Sofija Stefanovic’s ‘Miss Ex-Yugoslavia’
A vivid an account of growing up in a time of war, between two worlds

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?


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