The same lack of nous that inspired the double dissolution and an avalanche of lost seats is now confronting those promised corporate tax cuts, which the polls tells us will do little to win the electorate’s hearts, minds and votes. Count on this Prime Minister, as always, to get it hopelessly wrong
Recently in The Australian, Paul Kelly opined that, if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dropped his proposed company tax cuts, he would be “abandoning the policy on which he won the 2016 election.”
By any journalistic standards, that is one of the longest of long bows. A foreign visitor might well read this and imagine Turnbull had established a clear mandate for the company tax cuts. In fact, as all who follow politics with even half an eye are well aware, Turnbull called the election on the basis of re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The double dissolution was advised on May 8, just days after the budget at which the tax cuts were first announced. So they were in the public consciousness, true, but only for two months during the campaign, and then only as one plank among many in a wider platform. It is safe to doubt they played a huge role, or even a middling one, in deciding the election’s outcome.
When the returns were tallied, Turnbull had managed to reduce a fifteen seat majority to just one. If that’s ‘winning’ we need to seriously consider the adoption of a new word, one that will fit somewhere between winning and losing. We already have ‘boycott’ and ‘gerrymander’, two words springing from the names and actions of those who gave them meaning, so why not ‘turnbulling’? For example, one could say Julia Gillard turnbulled the 2010 election.
Had Turnbull won government from opposition by turning a deficit of seats into a one seat majority, Kelly’s statement might be justified. However, as a reflection of reality, he could more justifiably have said ‘he would be abandoning the policy on which he almost lost the 2016 election.’ Be that as it may, as far as the tax cuts themselves are concerned, I am persuaded by the likes of Judith Sloan (and Bill Shorten in an earlier incarnation) that they are not only desirable but, ultimately, essential.
The question now facing the Coalition is whether to dump the corporate tax cuts. Policy-wise, it would seem a mistake to scuttle them. By any reasonable reckoning they would be a good thing, and an astute party, one led by a leader more deeply possessed of political nous than egomaniacal vanity, would make a virtue of their phased introduction by pointing out that the timeline is intended to soften the blow to government revenues. Again, were the Coalition competently led, there would be gains in stressing Shorten’s previous support and cynical about-face as he cranks up the class war rhetoric. That would be both a principled stance — and one upon which they would probably lose the next election, given dearth of talent and selling skills that characterise the Turnbull cabinet.
So why not dump them? Such a backdown would be a major embarrassment for Turnbull and yet another blow to what little credibility he retains. That last fig leaf of conviction, gone with the wind.
Regarded pragmatically, the main reason to dump the push for corporate tax cuts is that they are, apparently, a turnoff for the swinging voters the Coalition desperately needs. But there is another good reason to give them the flick, at least for now. Jack Lang is reported to have said ‘always back the horse called Self Interest. It’s the only one trying’. That may be the most astute thing Lang ever said, but is it always true? The so-called ‘big end of town’ the tax cuts are designed to help have largely abandoned the field on this front, preferring to advance their self-interest by enthusiastically embracing each and every new virtue signalling fad proposed by the lunatic Left. If I were a Coalition MP whose seat depended upon selling the corporate tax cuts, I would not feel inclined to run onto the stadium without a raucously cheering mob in the stands.
Which brings me to my last reason to dump the tax cuts. In this Weekend Australian, Paul Kelly, channelling Kevin Rudd, identifies energy policy in general, and the NEG in particular, as ‘the biggest political test of our time’. If that is true, why would the government want to fight the next election on two controversial fronts? There is no need to disembowel a chicken to read the portents and know the NEG will not get up this term. Rather, it will be the key election issue next year.
But that is where I part company with Kelly who assures us “there is no Plan B.”
Really? What about a Plan B that includes withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, abandoning the pointless CO2 emissions reductions and working to restore an energy infrastructure that delivers affordable, reliable power. Yes, I know that’s a big ask from a government led by the man who once crossed the floor to back a carbon tax, but the electoral logic is unassailable. Sadly, these are also Tony Abbott’s suggestions, which means the Prime Minister who knifed him cannot, under any circumstances, embrace them.
What is the alternative? If the NEG is, as Kelly asserts, “complex and defies easy understanding”, imagine how easy it will be for the usual crop of rent-seeking opportunists to game the system. If anyone thinks implementing the NEG will be an end to the CO2 emissions reduction madness, they are sadly mistaken. Once the Coalition and Labor are done raping and pillaging the power sector, they will gird their loins to inflict a world of pain on other sectors, in particular transport and agriculture.
So the tax cuts need to be dumped (at least for the foreseeable future) because they are political poison. But the Paris agreement and the NEG need to be dumped because they are abysmally poor policy.
As for this abysmal, tin-eared Prime Minister, he needs to be dumped first and foremost. Then, maybe, we can turn on the lights.