It was always a myth
10 December 2022
You have to hand it to the prime minister. Albo is a man who really is capable of speaking with forked tongue and sounding sincere. He was happy with the media’s characterisation that he was pursuing a small target during this year’s election campaign in the full knowledge that his real ambition was multiple pieces of legislation leading to mounting government control of the economy and our way of life.
He and his lieutenants are now bragging about the 61 bills that have been passed by Parliament since Labor was elected, a run-rate not matched since 2013. Of course, many of these bills will be hopelessly drafted, insufficiently reviewed and cause endless problems down the track. But Albo doesn’t care – he is a man on the move, a man with a mission.
Let’s not forget, it was Albo who declared that his real purpose in life is ‘to fight Tories’. Of course, fighting Tories doesn’t just stop at beating the (supposedly) conservative side of politics. It also involves waging a class war, demonising business owners, punishing those who have accumulated wealth through hard work and cancelling those who don’t embrace his left/woke values.
The small target notion was really only a contrast with the grab-bag of revenue-raising proposals that previous opposition leader, Bill Shorten, had taken to the 2019 election. It seems like an aeon ago, but that election occurred when balancing the books by governments still carried some electoral appeal. The cost of Labor’s ambitious spending plans was offset by plans to crimp negative gearing, reduce the capital gains tax discount, abolish cash refunds for franked credits and increase the tax rate on trusts.
There was no getting away from the fact that there were some losers and that’s where the Labor strategy faltered. By picking on not very well-off, self-funded retirees who receive cash refunds for franking credits while bizarrely not touching much wealthier folk, a sufficient number of votes swung to the Coalition and Morrison snuck over the line. There was no way that Labor was going to repeat the mistake even if it meant that Shorten had to go.
Several factors fell into the lap of newly elected opposition leader, Anthony Albanese. The first was that budgetary management – or more specifically, debt and deficits – became a non-issue, politically speaking, as the Coalition government threw caution to the wind and massively overspent in 2020 and 2021. It’s hard to criticise Labor for having ambitious spending plans after that spendathon. The fact that shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, could present figures before the election that showed a bigger budget deficit under Labor and get away with it, was indicative of how far the ground had shifted.
It was also possible for Albo to ditch all those unpopular tax tweaks that had been a central part of Labor’s 2019 election package. Why invite criticism from some grumpy old codgers when there was seemingly no need to raise the money in any case?
But here’s the thing: just because Albo ditched Shorten’s revenue-raising measures, something that large elements of the left-leaning media disliked by the way, didn’t mean that he was really taking a small target to voters. (Check out how many senior journalists write column after column about the need to raise more tax and how to go about it in a ‘socially progressive’ and supposedly efficient way. It’s nauseating.)
Indeed, many of Labor’s think-big plans were hitting us in the face, if only the Coalition had decided to point this out. The pledge to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 (rather than the previous 45 per cent target) was a dead give-away. And this would involve over 80 per cent of electricity being generated by renewable sources. But where was the Coalition on this issue?
At the previous election, the Coalition under Scott Morrison and energy minister, Angus Taylor, had convincingly made the case that Labor’s target of 45 per cent would be economically damaging, leading to higher prices and job losses. Let’s face it, the difference between 43 and 45 is close to a rounding error.
Yet in the 2022 election campaign, we didn’t really hear a peep from the Coalition on this issue and, as a result, Albo scored an unjustified free pass. Morrison’s crazy decision to sign up to Net Zero 2050 and his enforced attendance at the Glasgow Cop climate change conference had tied his hands behind his back. (Mind you, those ‘modern Liberals’ whose seats were being threatened by well-funded Teal candidates were also involved in the rope work.)
And then there was industrial relations. Platitudes such as ‘getting wages moving’, removing the ‘deliberate design feature of the system’ that kept wages low (that would be Labor’s design feature, given that it is contained in the Fair Work Act) and reducing the gender pay gap came thick and fast from Labor shadow ministers. After years of low nominal wage growth, albeit with very low inflation too, voters were happy to lap up this benign-sounding messaging. And hadn’t the Coalition tried to reform industrial relations and largely failed?
My fears about B1 and B2 – Bowen and Burke – have turned out to be well founded. Climate Change and Energy Minister, Chris Bowen, sounds quite unhinged about renewables being our future and leading to lower electricity prices (sure). But with electricity prices already moving higher with more increases to come, his day of reckoning may not be too far away. (There is not a sensible economist in the world who supports price caps, by the way).
Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Burke, has been on a roll convincing rugby player, David Pocock, that paying off the flagging union movement is in the national interest. Again, it will be a case of ‘watch this space’ as industrial disputes take off and jobs are lost.
I need to add to my list of dangerous ministers, though. Ed Husic, Minister for Industry and Science, is proving to be completely out of his depth. (Wasn’t he dropped from the shadow ministry at some stage?) His view of the world is circa 1965; he believes in government intervention and the government picking winners. He is overseeing the totally bizarre National Reconstruction Fund which will raise debt of $15 billion in order to shower ‘free’ money on Labor’s pet projects.
The mainstream media is already crowing about what a successful year federal Labor has had – a convincing win at the election, frenetic parliamentary activity, multiple overseas missions accomplished. At this point, a bit of patience will serve the conservative side of politics well.
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