I WATCHED the Senate question time on the Federal Budget for about 15 minutes, learnt nothing and turned it off. It featured petty attacks and accusations with no substance – standard political fare. The Abbott government seems preoccupied with Labor rather than espousing a vision for the country.
It’s not just the Abbott Government. In the previous state election campaign, then premier Denis Napthine and his deputy Peter Ryan constantly focused on Daniel Andrews. Similarly, Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard focussed their attack on Tony Abbott.
It all suggests panic, a lack of courage or ideas. I would like to see a Government explain its vision and message to seek to take the people with them on the important issues confronting our country.
We have had an apparent backflip on budget strategy from the slash and burn of last year, a good thing given the Reserve Bank’s assessment of our economy. Although behind the tax cuts to small business and the new child care arrangements still lurk the cuts to the family allowance and higher education posed last year.
What was so disappointing about last year’s budget was that it targeted the less well-off while leaving a range of costly policy areas untouched. The promotion of the “budget emergency” was overblown and incompetently sold, and fortunately the Government has dropped it.
But there is no doubt the budget is increasingly structurally unsound. Australia has an ageing population, a shrinking industrial base and is doing little about climate change. There is a need to act, but over a number of budgets. The “budget emergency” rhetoric did more harm than good. Rather than providing a climate for sensible reform, it caused growing distrust. It was a lost opportunity to educate Australians on the challenges that lie ahead of us.
Short-term approaches tend to dominate our politics, but I was pleased to hear Christian Porter, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, while appearing on the ABC’s Q&A, seek to clarify a key issue confronting this and future governments. He eloquently discussed the impact the ageing population is having, and will have, on our economy. He explained that when the pension was introduced, there were some seven workers for each pensioner and a much lower life expectancy. Now the number has dramatically reduced to about two to three workers per pensioner.
Most people have some sense of this but it requires ongoing discussion by politicians and in the community. It will require a bipartisan approach because the measures required will not be popular. It seems this will not happen any time soon with the major parties having already run to their corners on the reforms necessary in retirement incomes, both pensions and superannuation.
The last big attempt at bipartisan reform was made by Malcolm Turnbull in the development of the emissions trading scheme. Then prime minister Kevin Rudd, however, was not up to the occasion. His constant wedging of Turnbull throughout this process ultimately cost Mr Turnbull, and arguably also Mr Rudd, their jobs as leaders.
The ruling mantra from the Government is “Labor’s debt and deficit”. This is a misrepresentation and symptomatic of the state of our political debate. Both parties contributed to the state of the budget, which is due to a collapse of revenue. The collapse of the iron ore price has as much to do with the deficit as any other impact. There was an opportunity to make some provision for the bad times during the mining boom of the Howard and Rudd/Gillard years. The Costello budgets took the wrong path, encouraging spending through tax cuts and follies such as the “baby bonus”.
Under Rudd, Labor bungled the mining tax so badly that it became a convenient and easy target for an opportunistic Abbott attack. Now we hear Twiggy Forrest argue that the major mining companies are using the lower demand to force the higher-cost operators out of the market, in the process reducing revenue to Australia for its natural resource.
The Government must lead reform in this but not with misleading and self-serving slogans such as last years “budget emergency.” It must engage with young people and older people and identify the measures that are not sustainable into the future. It must also reject an approach that burdens the less well-off while preserving the tax havens of the more prosperous, as we had in last year’s budget.
Rhetorical flourishes, such as ruling out reforms to the tax treatment of superannuation, are not helpful. Measures such as negative gearing, capital gains-free treatment of the family home and accessing the value of the family home to fund retirement should all be on the agenda, along with fuel subsidies to mining companies and a resource rent tax.
May 17, 2015
Michael don't expect any visionary thinking from either of the major parties as they must answer to the "highest bidder". Maybe it's about time the people took back control of our government system and got rid of party political rabble that presently govern us.