The Politics    Thursday, March 31, 2016

Running on empty

By Sean Kelly

Running on empty
What’s Turnbull going to campaign on?

I am becoming really excited about the approaching election, largely because I’m genuinely intrigued about this question: What on earth is Malcolm Turnbull going to campaign on?

Letting the states charge their own taxes isn’t the answer. You can’t explain that plan in fewer than 250 words (or at least the PM doesn’t seem able to). And there isn’t a clear problem it’s trying to solve, or, again, not one that doesn’t take multiple waffly paragraphs to describe.

In fact, the state tax plan wipes out one of the Liberals’ other tried and trusted campaigns: standing for lower taxes. The PM keeps insisting that the state tax plan is not about raising more tax, but the whole point of it is so that premiers can do exactly that. Without that part it really is just an accounting exercise, in which the feds raise the money but give it a different name.

Until recently I’d been expecting the government’s election campaign to be all about the economic transition from the mining boom. But all the whispers out of Canberra seem to be about company tax cuts (which voters don’t seem to care very much about), and not income tax cuts (which voters were pretty much promised by the forward-leaning treasurer, but now seem unlikely to get).

Turnbull could campaign on stopping the boats, but he doesn’t like talking about that very much, presumably because of its associations with Tony Abbott. He could talk about axing the carbon tax, but that has both the Abbott problem and the state-tax problem mentioned above.

Media reforms, senate reforms and bankruptcy laws are all big changes, but do voters care? “Innovation” sounds good, but come voting time people start to wonder whether these words actually mean anything solid.

Labor disunity is out the window too, given the Abbott problem and the seeming impossibility of ever getting Scott Morrison on the phone to discuss a major announcement in the minutes before the PM has absolutely decided it must urgently happen.

So are we looking at an overwhelmingly negative campaign based largely around union corruption and Bill Shorten’s personal inadequacies? Voters tend to expect more in the weeks leading up to an election. Tony Abbott in 2010 and Kevin Rudd in 2013 both suffered from a failure to put much on the table.

Government MPs will cut a leader a lot of slack, but one thing they tend to demand is a plan for winning the election. The new bit of Turnbull’s thinking to emerge today was the proposal that the federal government stops funding public schools and gives the states full responsibility, while the feds will continue funding private schools. That doesn’t come across as very electorally palatable either.

Last week it seemed Turnbull had a plan. This week that’s not so clear.


Today’s Links

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

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.


The Politics

Image of then NSW deputy premier John Barilaro and then treasurer Dominic Perrottet enjoy a Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2021. Image © Dean Lewins / AAP Images

The tool of the trade

What made John Barilaro and the NSW Coalition think they could get away with such blatant nepotism?

Image of Fatima Payman, Labor senator for Western Australia, May 28, 2022. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Census and sensibility

Between the census data and orientation day for incoming MPs, this is clearly no longer Scott Morrison’s Australia, if it ever was

Image of Independent Member for Warringah Zali Steggall speaking in the House of Representatives, October 27, 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Very cross bench

Labor appeals to fairness to justify a crossbench staffing decision that looks distinctly unfair

Image of Greens leader Adam Bandt addresses the Queensland Media Club in Brisbane, June 24, 2022. Image © Jono Searle / AAP Images

The third cut is the deepest

Are the Greens actually doing Labor a favour by pressing it to drop the Stage Three tax cuts?

From the front page

Composite image showing John Hughes (image via Giramondo Publishing) and the cover of his novel The Dogs (Upswell Publishing)

A dog’s breakfast

Notes on John Hughes’s plagiarism scandal

Image of Erin Doherty as Becky Green in Chloe. Image supplied

App trap: ‘Chloe’

‘Sex Education’ writer Alice Seabright’s new psychological thriller probing social media leads this month’s streaming highlights

Pablo Picasso, Figures by the sea (Figures au bord de la mer), January 12, 1931, oil on canvas, 130.0 × 195.0 cm, Musée national Picasso-Paris. © Succession Picasso/Copyright Agency, 2022. Photo: © RMN - Grand Palais - Mathieu Rabeau

‘The Picasso Century’ at the NGV

The NGV’s exhibition offers a fascinating history of the avant-garde across the Spanish artist’s lifetime

Cover image of Paul Dalla Rosa’s ‘An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life’

‘An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life’

Alienations and fantasies of escape unify the stories in Australian author Paul Dalla Rosa’s debut collection