28/08/2013 - 06:58

Costings will be a key test

28/08/2013 - 06:58


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With Tony Abbott cruising towards The Lodge, it is imperative that he lays out the path forward.

Costings will be a key test

With Tony Abbott cruising towards The Lodge, it is imperative that he lays out the path forward.

With just over a week until the federal election, it seems almost certain Australia is heading for a change of government.

The community is fed up with Labor, whether Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd is in charge.

Many people, particularly in the business sector, are hankering for stability and predictable policy.

Getting a government that just slows down would be a good start.

Governments cannot solve all of the community’s problems, as Labor has discovered when it tried too hard to do too many things with too little planning.

In the final week of the campaign, we should get a better idea of the capacity of the Liberals to deliver effective government.

This is when Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey will be expected to outline in some detail the costings of their policy platform.

They keep on telling us their policies are fully costed and fully funded, but it has been hard to establish that clearly.

The paid parental leave scheme is a case in point.

It’s budgeted to cost $5.5 billion and Tony Abbott has indicated, in broad terms, how it will be funded.

But like many things that Tony Abbott has talked about, there is a lot of detail that will need to be added before opposition policy can translate into effective government policy.

In this regard, Mr Abbott has been a very astute politician.

An opposition leader seeks to present just enough detail to win over the public, without giving away too much.

As many pundits have observed over the years – governments lose office, oppositions do not win power.

To this could be added a further observation that seems increasingly clear – election campaigns do not achieve much, if anything.

The coalition has consistently been ahead in the polls, and the campaign has done nothing to change that.

Labor’s change of leadership delivered a short-lived boost, but very quickly the polling results reverted to their well-established pattern.

The likely outcome at the federal poll will be similar to what happened on the east coast, when Labor governments lost power in Queensland, Victoria and, most spectacularly, New South Wales.

In each of these states, the new conservative governments have been hit by the tough reality of running government.

The best way to avoid that is to put in the hard yards while in opposition, developing detailed and credible policies.

That includes looking carefully at government spending programs, so the new government understands where savings can be made to offset new commitments.

Mr Abbott, like any astute opposition leader, has been saying this week that he can’t be prescriptive with his budget plans, because he doesn’t know the starting point.

That line gets harder to sustain as the quality of pre-election disclosure has improved.

And it will count for nothing after the election.

The days of saying ‘all bets are off’ after the new government discovers a shocking budget ‘black hole’ are over.

The Western Australian government has recently discovered just how tough it can be to wind back growth in spending.

The state government has budgeted to spend $27 billion in the current financial year, yet chopping out a few million dollars from school spending or community services can cause a huge backlash.

That is the reality awaiting Mr Hockey, and he owes it to the community to tell us before the election how he plans to meet that challenge.





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