And the award goes to… Jimbo!
18 March 2023
Having established my tentative list of dangerous and/or incompetent ministers in the Albanese Labor government, it behoves me to create a league ladder. Of course, I am not ruling out new entrants to the competition – there are quite few possible inclusions, I would however be the first to acknowledge that I don’t have the time or expertise to assess the performance of all of the players in Labor’s full ministry.
It’s purely coincidental that my current list is made up of men. I’ve got my eye on Plibbers who is still smarting from what she would regard as a demotion to environmental minister, having had her much-loved education portfolio ripped from her compassionate and caring arms. But now that Tanya is the environment minister, she is going to show Albo a thing or two.
She has already made a number of significant decisions – blocking Palmer’s proposed coal mine on the basis of it hurting the Great Barrier Reef even though it is some 100 kilometres away is one example – that have demonstrated her independence. Expect more determinations that won’t necessarily fit the Albanese narrative, including using her powers as minister to stymie economic developments.
The timing of the revelation that she declined to run for the Labor leadership in 2019 because of family issues was quite deliberate, designed to unsettle Albo who is looking very comfortable in his position as captain of the team. She is probably correct in stating that she would have won had she thrown her hat in the ring, in part because the inner-city left-leaning membership simply love her. The clear message is: Albo, watch your back.
One minister who should never make it on to my list is resources minister, Madeleine King, from Western Australia. She alone is sticking up for the resources industry and emphasising the important role it plays in our economy and energy system as well as for our public finances. There is little doubt that she is lonely in her positioning, but let’s just hope she keeps up the good work.
So let me get back to Jimbo. Oh gosh, I have forgone the drum roll opportunity akin to the last few minutes of the interminable Brownlow/Dally medal counts. But what the heck, our Treasurer has shot to the top of the ladder having had several weeks from hell as he battles poorly thought-out policies and becomes increasingly panicked about the future state of the budget.
Let’s face it, Trainee Treasurer is a title that suits him. He may have been schooled in the art of confrontational politics, having been a ministerial adviser to some well-known street fighters like Swanny. But when it comes to getting economic and financial decisions right, TT is way out of his depth.
You will notice that when he is asked a technical question about his portfolio, he will speak in the most general terms – because he doesn’t know the specific answer – and quickly turn it around to the incompetence of the Coalition when in office. To be sure, he is not a bad parliamentary performer – compare him with another on my list, Jonesy (pause here for hysterical laughter) – but the reality is that his inexperience is showing through.
The thing is that the job of treasurer is a very demanding one, covering a broad range of issues and dealing with complex and technical matters. This is in addition to being the bulwark against irresponsible spending ministers always seeking more taxpayer dollars – OK, more government debt – for their pet projects. There is also the continuous flow of rent-seekers who bang on the treasurer’s door. It requires a certain personality as well as someone who is prepared to work extremely hard, day in, day out.
I would be the first to concede that today’s treasurers are let down by a department that has been stripped of its deep expertise. It’s no longer a case of sound advice without fear or favour; rather it’s woke-tinged sloppy analysis. It would be easy to pin the blame entirely on current Treasury Secretary, Steven Kennedy (author of Garnaut’s last climate report before even the Labor government got sick of the messaging), but it has been a long, grinding process going back a couple of decades.
From being the leading central agency, Treasury these days is often a joke. Think here about the loony assumptions on commodity prices that underpin the key budget forecasts and the unwillingness to make more realistic assumptions. It’s easy to conclude that Treasury officials are not fond of the resources industry, notwithstanding that it underpins the budget, and would rather a greater concentration of climate-acceptable industries.
TT has fallen for a massive trap by accepting Treasury’s ill-considered advice to impose a doubling of tax on superannuation earnings for accounts in excess of $3 million. That said, it’s not hard to see why he so quickly accepted the warped recommendation – it would only affect 80,000 people or around 0.5 per cent of all superannuation account holders and it would raise $2.3 billion per year. His trouble is that the Treasury advice is flawed in many different ways.
Most importantly, the proposal will be almost impossible to implement, particularly for those on defined benefit pensions who must be treated equivalently if the politics of the proposal are to work. Because the super funds were not prepared to cooperate in establishing the new tax liabilities for large account holders – too much money to upgrade software for a small number of individuals (most large accounts are in self-managed funds) – some ‘genius’ thought that using the Tax Office might be the way to go.
The trouble is that the ATO holds only gross data: the superannuation fund balances at the beginning of the financial year and at the end. The difference between these two includes both realised and unrealised capital gains, which latter have never been taxed at an individual level.
TT was also persuaded that the $3 million shouldn’t be indexed which means that more and more people (and permanent enemies of Labor) will be pulled into the high tax-paying net, particularly in the context of high inflation. Incidentally, it won’t raise anywhere near $2.3 billion because people will simply abandon superannuation and put their money in other tax-effective instruments.
And good luck, TT, with taxing DB beneficiaries like Albo and Plibbers, and 80,000 Unisuper members, and many thousands of retired armed service personnel, and phalanxes of public sector workers, both federal and state.
So it’s a ‘win’ for Jimbo at this stage, clearly at the top of the ladder.
Maybe I should start a tipping competition?