Thursday, July 4, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Tax deal done
This week’s crossbench frenzy will cost Australia dearly

Image of Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick

All eyes were on Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick this afternoon as he strolled into the chamber to explain exactly what sort of deal on gas prices he had extracted from the government in exchange for giving away $158 billion in future tax revenue. The deal is only a draft, said Patrick. “I do not have a document that links anything to tax cuts,” he said, “it doesn’t set a price.” The more important point was made immediately afterwards by Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who got stuck into the Opposition for waiting to see what the crossbench did before coming to a decision itself on whether to support or oppose the government’s full tax package: “The once-proud Australian Labor Party, who you’d think might have a position themselves … are outsourcing their policy development to a couple of senators from South Australia.” It hit home.

Down the track there will be plenty of time to analyse whether the new power bloc of Centre Alliance plus Jacqui Lambie – who may prove the government’s best path through the Senate this term – have done the right thing by the national interest in agreeing to pass the full tax package today. Right now it all sounds very loose: the Centre Alliance senators appear to have rolled over for a draft agreement with no guarantee that gas prices would go down to the level of $7 per gigajoule, which Patrick explained was the level the ACCC has indicated they could get to with a proper domestic reservation policy. For Lambie, the government has not agreed to wipe Tasmania’s full $157 million in social housing debt – bad precedent, moral hazard – but it has done enough to convince her that it is serious about doing something equivalent.

But it is very difficult to weigh the merit of making these short-term deals with the long-term consequences of undercutting the government’s ability to deliver essential services into the late 2020s – particularly if the controversial stage-three tax cuts do pass tonight, as expected. Lambie did not speak during Question Time, but in an interview on ABC Radio said she was “terribly worried about that stage three, I’ll be honest, and if it was happening tomorrow, these tax cuts wouldn’t be going through”. Having done her deal with the devil, the Tasmanian senator is clearly hoping that stage three never comes into effect. “Honestly, if you can’t afford those tax cuts, they’re not going to go through in 2024–25,” she said. “That’s just common sense.”

The Opposition peppered the government with the same-old questions about the tax cuts in the Senate today – who would get the benefit? which services would be cut? – but Finance Minister Mathias Cormann batted them all away by pointing back to Labor’s election defeat. “You’ve got more positions on tax than are in the Kama Sutra,” he said, referring to Labor’s about face in calling for stage two to be brought forward. “You should have long ago cut your losses,” said Cormann.

The real opposition came from the Greens treasury spokesperson, Peter Whish-Wilson, who gave one of his best speeches today, saying the tax-cuts package “may be the most important bill we debate in the 46th parliament”. Whish-Wilson asked why the Senate had not done its job and referred stage three to an inquiry for scrutiny (as The Australia Institute revealed last weekend, it is the biggest single budget measure to escape an inquiry), simply to suit the political imperative of the government. “If politics is a contest of ideas, there does not seem to be much of a contest,” Whish-Wilson said. Without exaggeration, he said, what is happening in the Australian economy right now is “extraordinary … unheralded”. Interest rates and bond yields at record lows, wage growth at its worst since World War Two, the link between productivity growth and wages growth broken. “It irks me that this government, this parliament, if it passes these tax laws, has failed to learn the lessons of the GFC – failed to overthrow the shackles of neoliberalism.” The tax cuts, he said, were deliberately designed “to bleed the carcass so there is no choice but to cut government expenditure on the most vulnerable people in this country – the battlers”. What’s the bet no one was listening.

“Dear @zalisteggall I suspect The Oz is being mischievous, but many people – me included – decided 2 support u bcos u were independent. If u have changed ur mind that’s up 2 u but if so, the only ethical path is 2 resign & recontest Warringah 4 LNP. Anything else is a gross betrayal.”

Warringah resident Jane Caro, in response to a report in The Australian that the recently elected independent has not ruled out joining the Liberal Party.

“In making this recommendation, the department considered only the environmental outcomes, and did not weigh the environmental risks against the social and economic benefits of the project. Rather, as the department’s briefing noted, this balancing exercise was for me to do.”

From the statement of reasons for approval of the Yeelirrie uranium mine given by former environment minister Melissa Price, whose department advised that it could lead to the extinction of 12 species.

Repealing medivac
As the government pushes to repeal the medivac legislation, lawyers and doctors contradict the arguments put against it.

The “deemed” rate of return on pensioners’ investments, for the purpose of calculating benefits for those with assets under $51,200, even though official interest rates fell to 1 per cent on Tuesday.

“The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 … respond[s] to community concern and the recommendations of the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption to ensure the integrity of registered organisations and their officials, for the benefit of their members.”

From the explanatory memorandum to the new industrial laws introduced into parliament by the federal minister for industrial relations, Christian Porter, today.

The list

“In that narrow space of light between denial and defeatism, staring down the most powerful institutions in the world, stands a Year 12 student with a placard on the steps of the Victorian parliament. Behind her are classmates from every time zone on the planet; kids with names she’ll never know, from London and Seoul to Cape Town and Mumbai. Beside her are extinction rebels, forest protectors, anti-fracking organisers, anti-coal activists. All around her are First Nations warriors, teachers and elders who have been fighting mass extinction, violent inequality and environmental collapse since 1788.”

“On June 19 this year, the High Court of Australia delivered its decision in the case of Masson v Parsons, ruling that a known sperm donor was the legal father of the child born of artificial insemination. The ruling made international headlines and was the first of its kind in Australia, but it was only the latest twist in a long legal saga.”

“Any professional tennis player who raises their voice will sooner or later be compared to John McEnroe. For once, that comparison is pertinent. Kyrgios and McEnroe have a lot in common beyond the clichés. Both outsiders, both preferring basketball, both in some ways not suited to tennis but too good to do anything else, both practice averse, both preternaturally talented, both noise-phobic, both mystified and apologetic but ultimately unrepentant about their own playing emotions.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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