Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Chalmers fires up
A scrapper from Brisbane’s backblocks won’t be lectured on aspiration

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers at the National Press Club.

The arm wrestle over the government’s tax cut package is going to continue until it is debated in parliament next week, but in today’s National Press Club address shadow treasurer Dr Jim Chalmers showed that he will take the fight up to the government on economic management. Don’t be put off by the doctorate: Chalmers wore his heart on his sleeve, describing himself as a “scrapper from Logan City” who would not be lectured on the politics of aspiration by “Liberals who first heard about it as a marketing term from a focus group”. Aspiration as opportunity was Labor’s reason for being, Chalmers said, and Labor would claim it back.

Chalmers took a shot at both Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s economic reform speech yesterday – “more of the same rhetoric about unions and red tape they’ve been using for six years” – and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s argument that the fundamentals of the economy remain sound and that the major concern is trade tensions between the United States and China. Chalmers said he was “left wondering if [the Treasurer] had even read [RBA governor Philip] Lowe’s statement from the June meeting”. In the statement, Chalmers reminded us, Lowe described global conditions as reasonable and said that “the main domestic uncertainty continues to be the outlook for household consumption, which is being affected by a protracted period of low income growth”.

Chalmers spruiked the Opposition’s alternative proposal on tax, agreed at yesterday’s shadow cabinet meeting, underlining the point that Labor was now the only party proposing that all workers get a tax cut in this term of parliament, by pulling forward the second stage of the government’s tax package. Chalmers reckoned that the $3.7 billion cost, as well as the cost of bringing forward infrastructure spending, could be met without endangering the government’s forecast surplus for 2019–20 given that our terms of trade have remained favourable and company profits are holding up.

Chalmers ducked and weaved over the third stage of the tax cuts, which comes in from 2024. He remains vehemently opposed to this element of the plan, saying it was based on “two cons”: firstly, that a tax cut in five years’ time, “which would flow overwhelmingly to the people least likely to spend it, will miraculously speed up a slowing economy in 2019”; and secondly, the belief that the third stage of the plan is all about rewarding aspiration. Chalmers accused the government of paying lip service to aspiration but serving up something altogether different: “Opportunity is harder to come by than it used to be,” he said. “The link between reward and effort is being severed. No matter how hard Australians work, their wages are stagnant; no matter how hard they work, the future of their jobs is uncertain; no matter how hard they work, costs like energy bills are rising too fast.”

Chalmers can repudiate stage three all he likes, of course, but it’s a game of chicken that the government is likely to win in the end, either by dealing with the crossbench or by ratcheting up so much pressure on Labor – which we already know is in two minds – that the Opposition crumbles and waves the whole package through. Labor’s compromise on stage two has already been rejected by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who quite reasonably calls [$] it an attempt to govern from Opposition. Without buying into the question of a mandate – for a government with a one-seat majority – the Coalition has just won an election, and Labor’s tax policies will be a sideshow until 2022.

Wherever the tax cut package lands, it is good to see that Chalmers, as shadow treasurer and a new member of the Labor leadership team, is energised for the long fight ahead. Ditto shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally, who is taking on Peter Dutton, yesterday challenging him on the renewal of the Paladin contract, and today accusing him of crying wolf over the medivac laws. Chalmers, too, showed he had some fire in the belly today when asked what he would bring to the job. “I am essentially a scrapper from Logan City on the outskirts of Brisbane,” he said. “Everything that is in my head and everything that is in my heart comes in some way or another from growing up in the area that I represent now. That’s why I get so dark about this stuff about aspiration.” 

“The idea that aspiration can be thrown around as some kind of marketing term that’s on the front page, the summary page of a focus group, that just drives me nuts. Because aspiration is not something that exists in a focus group report. Aspiration is something that exists in communities like the one I grew up in. Where people just want to know that if they study hard, go to bed a bit later than everyone else, they get up earlier than everyone else, then they’ve got a shot. And that’s what this country should be about.”

It sounds like conviction.

“Australia has somehow managed to invest $51 billion on a network that can’t even deliver 50Mbps to around one million of its fixed-broadband end-user premises … The NBN project has failed and Australia needs to stop expecting NBN Co to deliver high-speed broadband to all Australians – it is just not going to happen.”

Comments today by Huawei Technologies Australia chief technology officer David Soldani, a former global head of 5G for Nokia.

“All credit to Scott Morrison because I think he has provided the leadership that Malcolm never could. I only stuck my hand up last August because I believe that I could have won the election.”

Peter Dutton, who challenged Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberal Party leadership, opens up to Sky News Australia’s David Speers for his two-part documentary Bad Blood/New Blood, airing tonight.

The number of faith leaders who have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison declaring that the climate situation is an emergency and urging a halt to all new coal and gas projects, starting with the proposed Adani mine.

“Council call on the Federal Government to respond to this emergency by: (i) taking urgent action to meet the emissions reduction targets contained in the Paris Agreement by reintroducing a price on carbon; and (ii) establishing a Just Transition Authority, with enough funding to ensure that Australians employed in the fossil fuel industries have viable and appropriate opportunities for alternate employment.”

From the City of Sydney’s climate emergency declaration, moved by Lord Mayor Clover Moore and passed unanimously last night.

The list

“No murders and no monsters. This was the rule that writers Jane Allen and Jesse Blackadder set for themselves as they plotted out a TV drama set at Mawson station in Antarctica, where they’ve just spent three months as Australian Antarctic Arts Fellows ... ‘But why would you have to manufacture drama where there’s so much psychological, emotional stuff going on as it is? A group of people forced to live for many months in close quarters. And nobody can leave.’”

“The Australian of the Year honour is a crown usually worn lightly. More a recognition than a responsibility. Batty was a rare exception: for her, the honour was a platform she felt would be quickly withdrawn, and so to be spoken from with great urgency. The problem was she was profoundly traumatised. It is extraordinary to consider that the honour was conferred on Batty less than a year after her son’s murder. She had been catapulted into a vexed and bruising celebrity – while suffering post-traumatic stress.”

“Facebook insists it’s not a media organisation. It’s a technology company and a neutral platform for other people’s content. It is certainly true that it piggybacks on other companies’ content. But it is also constantly testing, surveying and altering its algorithms, and the changes have vast effects.” 

Rosie Batty’s private grief
When Rosie Batty’s son was murdered, she became a public figure. Martin McKenzie-Murray spoke to her about grief and healing.

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?


The Monthly Today

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Image of Labor candidate in Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain

Bega pleased

Kristy McBain’s win has implications for the Morrison government

Images of Kristy McBain and Fiona Kotvojs

Southern discomfort

Tomorrow’s result in Eden-Monaro is on a knife edge

Image of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Grey zone

Between war and peace, Australia’s defence strategy is evolving

From the front page

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Weal of fortune

Rebuilding the economy means government investment, but not all public spending is equal

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through

The man inside and the inside man

Crime, punishment and indemnities in western Sydney’s gang wars