About nine months ago Malcolm Turnbull usurped Tony Abbott as Australian Prime Minister, and most of Australia took a huge sigh of relief. The urbane, articulate and moderate Turnbull promised a more measured leadership of the country, free of slogans and cant. Most of us believed it would mean a more progressive policy direction, and less strident and divisive rhetoric. Count me among those who had high hopes, but the reality has been that though Turnbull is gentler and more believable than Abbott, his tenure has been a huge disappointment.
I could articulate a dozen or more examples of disappointed expectations, either things done, or not done. As much as anything the betrayal has been that he has done so little. When he might have taken a lead he has equivocated. When he might have put his foot down he has demurred. It’s a telling reflection of his status within the parliamentary Liberal party, beholden as he is to the conservative wing of the party who reluctantly agreed to his ascension. He may be leader, but he’s not free to lead. It’s a handy excuse, except that I think there may also be something in Malcolm’s character that is not fully committed.
Though he promised better, his rhetoric has degenerated into the kind of puerile us against them jingoism that Abbott specialised in. It was enough for me to listen to him during the week about ‘stopping the boats’ and about ‘Labor’s weakness’ that I knew I couldn’t vote for him. Mine is the frustration of someone who wanted to believe, only to find there was no substance to that hope. I was willing to get onside; instead, bitterly disappointed, I’m offside.
The election is next Saturday. It’s not really about the relative leaders, Turnbull and Shorten, but about the policies they bring to the table. By instinct I’m progressive and liberal. In another context I might be called a social democrat. I’m fascinated also with the mechanisms of the economy, and a believer that the fate of nations can be set by which levers are pulled at what time. On these counts as well I’m on the Labor side of the ledger.
There are a few critical policy differences and decisions that sway me.
Turnbull has promised a 50 million tax cut for business. I’m not against tax cuts, but have the philosophy that they should be targeted and balanced. An across the board tax cut is lazy politics to me, just as an increase to the GST rate would be. It’s a variation on the old trickle down economics that in fact delivered little benefit at all. And in fact there’s little evidence that a company tax cut will provide in the impetus the government claims. It’s been done in other places and the results have been mixed (refer Canada).
If we are to cut taxes then let’s do it intelligently. Cuts like this should be a part of a package of different parts that complement each other. If we give away money here, where do we make it up from? How does it fit within the overall taxation strategy? We’ve had myriad Treasury reports and white papers over the years about tax, most of which have been ignored. This smacks of policy on the run just before an election.
It’s no good if the business owner just pocket the savings. If we want him to spend or invest it then make that a condition. There are already narrow incentives in place for research and development, for investment in infrastructure, but elevate and broaden them. As it’s proposed it’s just a cash giveaway in the hope that the economy will benefit.
The ALP are proposing a revision of negative gearing legislation. For me this is just about the most important policy announcement of the whole campaign. There has been the predictable scaremongering about this, about how it will drive house prices down and rents up, and so on. The fact of the matter is that negative gearing in its present state is a rort that does the economy little good. That must be the determining factor: it must be for the good of all, not just the few.
That’s why the ALP policy is so important. It doesn’t eliminate investment for negative gearing, but restricts it to new construction. That in turn creates an incentive to actually build, rather than simply recycle existing dwellings. The economic benefit of that is that higher construction mean more jobs and greater economic activity. And with it there is a concomitant reduction in tax deductions for non-productive house investment – and a saving to the bottom line.
Much is said how house prices would drop as a result. I don’t believe that, and I don’t think any reputable economists believe that either. The ‘worst’ that could happen is that the price of houses would rise less quickly – would that be a bad thing? I think we’re heading for a long overdue correction shortly with or without this legislation. That would be a good thing. The problem with house prices as they have risen is that it prices non-home owners out of the market, and benefits little the existing homeowner – what’s the value if the house you live doubles in price if the house you want to buy doubles in price also? These are relative prices, and some moderation would harm no-one.
As far as I’m concerned Malcolm Turnbull has absolutely fucked up the NBN, and reason enough to vote against him. Tech savvy as he is, he bought into the political game and played along with his Luddite colleagues. This is something that will cripple Australia if not resolved – and incidentally, I believe money would be much better spent here getting it right than handing out company tax cuts. A fast and powerful national broadband will benefit industry. It will facilitate opportunities, and create economic activity. It’s as much about what we’re missing out on as it is about poor service. Give us a proper NBN and watch new business spring up.
Lastly, it’s the marriage equality argument. Abbott reluctantly promised a plebiscite, which Malcolm reluctantly agreed to honour (he supports marriage equality). That has been watered down since, to the point that something which should be inevitable, and which most Australians are in support of, is by no means a sure thing.
I’m surprised Labor advertising hasn’t made more of the fact that Mal is not his own man – he’s in the pocket of the right-wing nut jobs who let him assume the leadership, strings attached (incidentally, the same type of RWNJ’s who in the UK precipitated the Brexit vote). They don’t want marriage equality. They’re deeply conservative. If they can find a way to sabotage the plebiscite then they will, and hang the Australian people – and Mal goes along with it.
I’m one of those who believe we don’t need a plebiscite to make it happen, but if we must then make it legitimate and binding. Back in the day Howard sabotaged the Republican vote, and we’re at risk of the same crafty politics doing the same to the plebiscite. I’m passionate about this, simply as a matter of fairness. I’ll be deeply ashamed as an Australian if it doesn’t happen, and Malcolm Turnbull forever damned.
Health, and particularly Medicare has got a bit of airplay this election too, and it with education are further good reasons to vote Labor. Surprisingly climate change has been off the table, and immigration rendered a non-issue because the parties have largely the same policies.
Economic management is always given as a reason to vote Liberal over Labor, but is one of the biggest myths in Australian politics. Look at the figures. The Liberal governments over the last 15 years have been bigger spenders than the Labor governments in that period. Howard crippled this country in 2007 with extravagant spending tax cuts hooping to buy himself another term.
When Labor spent more it was to offset the GFC, and it worked (and there’s good arguments why infrastructure spending should be lifted now – more so than company tax cuts). This government has almost doubled the deficit since taking office. It’s a myth that sells however.
I’m not voting for Mal. Shorten has found his mojo, but I’m still not convinced of him, but he’s the better option. The Greens I’ll never forgive for what they did to the ETS.