The Politics    Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A new Golden Age ... maybe

By Sean Kelly

Are the stars aligning for serious policy?

Yesterday, I said there was a real opportunity for Labor, if they could find serious budget reforms that built on voters’ beliefs that Labor cared about ordinary Australians much more than the government did.

Today, Labor did just that. Bill Shorten and Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen announced they would make three changes to tax breaks for people with more superannuation than most. In other words, budget savings that won’t hit the most vulnerable.

A rare media consensus seems to be forming that this is a good idea, with Fairfax running a piece from Mark Kenny in favour of the changes and the Australian running two opinion pieces that were largely positive, from David Crowe and Robert Gottliebsen. (Though Bernard Keane reminds us that the tabloids might not like it.)

Could this be the return to the Golden Age of Reform that nostalgic political commentators have been hoping for? Isn’t this the way it’s supposed to look? A discussion unfolds in the media, the government and the opposition agree change is needed, and following announcements of actual policy the media gets on board. Amazing!

Well, almost. The government’s attitude is still a little confusing at this stage. After Hockey made the right noises in March, the PM fell back on a tried and trusted line: “It’s so typical of the Labor Party that they immediately want to see more tax, not less.”

The PM’s parliamentary secretary, Alan Tudge, played that role for the PM today: “It seems that every new policy that the Labor Party has is a new tax.”

Hockey was also vague, telling reporters today: “We have a tax white paper. We have a proper process. Labor makes it up as they go along.”

Still, Tudge and Hockey didn’t say no. And while Abbott seemed to rule out changes to super a few days ago, the more I look at his words the more I think they might have been carefully constructed to leave him options.

I say this very, very, very tentatively, but imagine if the combination of a drastically unpopular 2014 budget, an emboldened opposition, a government running out of options, and a media sick of circuses combines to deliver serious reform this year?

I know. Probably a little too much to hope for.

The government announced a review of each of the 5500 services funded by Medicare, as well as a crackdown on abuse of the system by medical practitioners and an examination of care and funding models. Health Minister Sussan Ley ruled out a Medicare co-payment. Crossbench senators have welcomed the review, and even Labor “cautiously welcomed” it.

In strange overseas news: New Zealand PM John Key pulled a waitress’ hair. Some might think this a fringe issue, but she was said to be pretty cut up about it. Key has apologised. Meanwhile, the chairman of the UK’s Conservative party has been accused of editing Wikipedia pages to suit his political interests. I’d be more worried if it was just a hobby.

The Climate Change Authority, headed up by former Reserve Bank Governor Bernie Fraser, has recommended cuts to greenhouse emissions far beyond Australia’s current targets.

Here’s an editorial criticising the Labor think-tank policy initiative I praised yesterday.

SBS news: The station might win the right to advertise for ten minutes an hour in prime time instead of five minutes, and to use product placement. SBS has warned that if the senate won’t pass the government’s plan the broadcaster might have to sack more staff. The 120 minute daily cap on advertising would stay in place. Meanwhile, controversy has broken out over an article in the Australian suggesting the station’s head of news, Jim Carroll, wanted “attractive women” on air, which Carroll has denied. SBS news reporter Ellie Laing has hit back at the report.

Headline inflation slowed in the March quarter, confirming the economy is on a go-slow right now, and potentially clearing the way for the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates.

Wellness blogger Belle Gibson has admitted she lied about having cancer. That’s not very political, but Richard Cooke had some interesting analysis of media reactions back in March in the Monthly.

You may have heard that it’s been raining in Sydney. Take that, global warmists!

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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