So why would conservatively-inclined readers suppose that this government can sell a budget that has real spending cuts and no increases in taxes? Remember, this is the same government that couldn’t sell a defence of free speech. That’s right. I’m talking about a core Western freedom going back at least 150 years, one that is honoured not in the breach but in the observance in the United States with its 330 million people of diverse backgrounds who look more like Tony Abbott’s stillborn ‘Team Australia’ than our homegrown squad. And yet this government can’t make the case for free speech.
I’m talking about a repeal of a similar national hate-speech law that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper got through his Parliament, via a Private Member’s bill, despite facing just as much scare-mongering and as many ‘sky will fall’ claims as Mr. Abbott faced. But Harper in Canada made the opposite Captain’s Pick. He sided with principle. And after a long time and a lot of fighting he got the repeal through. Has the sky fallen in up there in Canada? You’ve got to be kidding. Not a single one of the mooted horrors has come to pass. Muslims, Jews, Native Canadians, all are treated just as well as before the repeal. And everyone knew that was going to be the case.
As I said, looking Australians in the eye and explaining the importance of a core part of our inherited Western values, and why that means Section 18C needs to be repealed, should be a pretty easy task. And I say that despite knowing that there will be, and were, all the expected bleatings from the special interest victims’ brigades, many of whom get substantial monies from the taxpayer — a bizarre state of affairs to begin with. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see why my tax dollars should go to an overpaid Race Relations Commissioner so that he can swan around Australia and speak against repeal of Section 18C, as though he were a politician (though I know that at one time he was a Labor Party member).
And don’t get me wrong. Changing leader from Abbott to Turnbull would only make things worse. Abbott wants to repeal Section 18C but can’t summon the bottle to do it. Turnbull strikes me as not even wanting to do it. So the lesser of two evils is Abbott.
Yet if that’s where conviction takes us on free speech concerns, I repeat my question: Why should anyone expect this government, whoever its leader, to be capable of selling a budget that says ‘We are going to cut spending, not raise taxes, because that is the right thing to do’? You can’t sell it if your heart’s not in it.
I had assumed before the last election that, given the massive increase in spending (and above-trend-rate expenditure increases), inherited by this government that it would go all in to fix the problem by, you know, cutting spending. Instead it has brought in new ‘temporary’ taxes and mooted new medical research funds. We sure weren’t told about that before the last election.
And who amongst you feels confident that Mr. Hockey will hold the line this coming budget and aim to get rid of the deficit through spending cuts, with no more new taxes? I’m not. The path of least resistance is to take the path that Labor would take – increase taxes on a range of sneaky fronts. And when pressed? Well, just say you’re doing it a smidgeon less than Labor would.
For comparison purposes take a look at Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, who has put principle up front and, because of that, has had to face three elections in four years. He has won them all. How? By having a clearly articulated set of principles, a set that is more or less internally consistent (so no idiotic paid parental leave or two-level corporate tax), and then explaining what he stands for to the voters. He’s left it to them — and he keeps winning. And Walker, a Republican Governor and possible future President, has faced a hostile legislature in a deeply Democratic State. He talks to the voters, not hostile legislators, who will never agree. Supporters and critics alike can see his convictions.
Here in Australia with this Coalition government it would be nice to see the same thing. Thus far into the Abbot government’s term you simply cannot. Forget criticisms that you haven’t negotiated with a handful of puffed up, pompous independent Senators. The fact is that Labor is blocking spending cuts and will continue to do so. So put up a bill that makes the cuts you think necessary, cuts that you can explain and sell to the voters, and then sell them. If they don’t get through the Senate, take them to the voters.
And forget the ABC. It is now so disgracefully one-sided that nothing this government does – negotiate, don’t negotiate, cut, don’t cut – will ever get a balanced hearing on this billion-dollar-a-year taxpayer funded broadcaster that daily breaches its statutory obligation to be impartial. So ignore it. And start convincing voters why your vision is correct and Labor’s is not.
Surely, convincing voters that you have a better vision for the future than Bill Shorten is not beyond the wit of a half-decent politician.
James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland is the author of