19/11/2014 - 14:03

Few major scores, some own goals

19/11/2014 - 14:03


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The Abbott government certainly had no honeymoon period, and things are no rosier more than 12 months after it took power.

Few major scores, some own goals
WHERE THERE’S SMOKE: Joe Hockey should put the cigars away and concentrate on running a low-tax economy.

The Abbott government certainly had no honeymoon period, and things are no rosier more than 12 months after it took power.

A puzzling feature of the Tony Abbott-led coalition’s first year is that it continues to trail Labor in the polls.

The latest Newspoll has the coalition eight points behind (46-54), so the government needs a four percentage point lift just for a toss-up election outcome.

That’s deplorable, particularly when compared with the usual ‘honeymoon period’ new governments typically enjoy (remember Kevin Rudd and his government’s astronomical approval in Labor’s first year in power).

During that honeymoon the Liberals elected and discarded two leaders – Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull – after which they narrowly missed regaining power in 2010 with their third choice, Abbott.

In fact, had NSW renegade ex-Nationals turned-independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, not teamed up with Julia Gillard, Mr Abbott could today be in his second administration.

It’s worth recapping these events, for they show oppositions don’t need to do much to regain power.

Rudd went from superstar to ousting by a deputy once his popularity slumped, whereas the Abbott-led Liberals can’t reach 50-50.

What’s going on?

In addition to a sizeable slice of bad luck, there’s been some deplorable judgement.

The bad luck came as a trifecta.

First was the arrival in Canberra of Clive Palmer, Australia’s most unusual and idiosyncratic politician ever, who won the seat of Fairfax from a coalition candidate by just a few dozen votes.

This, of course, wasn’t Abbott’s, fault because Palmer only decided to form his Palmer United Party after an acrimonious fallout with the Liberal/Nationals in Queensland.

Secondly, Mr Palmer mysteriously gained access to a $12 million war chest, which ensured three less-than-cooperative PUP senators joined the nation’s Senate.

Finally, to compound matters, more misfortune came with the unprecedented loss of 1,000 or so Senate ballots in Perth, with the High Court ruling a re-run election.

That put Abbott even further back on his back foot, compelling him to hold-back telling voters that the days of ever bigger and broader Canberra largesse were numbered, as revealed in the National Commission of Audit report.

Those were year one’s unlucky ingredients.

But what of bad judgement?

First and foremost was the unforgivable breaking of faith with voters by raising income taxes on higher income earners, when the Liberals had run so hard with the message that it was Labor, not they, which was the high-taxing party.

Mr Abbott compounded this by restarting fuel indexation, – without legislative authority – meaning he’s compensating for the removal of the carbon tax about which he’d created such a hullaballoo for three years.

So, one Labor-controlled Canberra energy slug (carbon tax) was replaced, via suspect methods, with a Liberal-initiated energy slug (a tax on fuel).

Neither of the Liberals’ tax increases enhanced that party’s claim to being the low-taxing party – because it’s not.

Voters now know Abbott-style Liberalism doesn’t lower taxes; it only juggles them.

That’s at the crux of the government’s current position in the polls.

Compounding those blunders was the now infamous televised scene showing Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann puffing cigars after they’d wrapped-up their gravely flawed tax-boosting budget.

As well as bequeathing cartoonists nationwide with a signature item to include in their work, this image irked many voters, who understandably felt as betrayed as they had been when Labor under Gillard reneged by taxing CO2.

However, the Abbott government got a huge elephant stamp for the effectiveness of its boat-turnback policy with regard to unauthorised maritime arrivals.

But that whopping success was gobbled-up in the polls by, among other things, those foolish duel-taxing imposts.

Other successes were similarly cast aside in the public mind.

The prime minister deftly handled several other issues, showing he’s a capable performer on the international stage, if not at home. But they’ve only helped hold the polling line at 46 per cent.

These include the loss of two Malaysian Airlines aircraft – MH 370 over the southern Indian Ocean, and MH 17 over eastern Ukraine. With a significant number of Australians on board, particularly MH17, the government’s gritty response understandably received widespread backing at home.

Clearly, therefore, there’s been a complex mixture of misfortune and mishandling alongside well-deserved acclamations.

What of the future; the next two years?

The one big plus Liberals have in their back pocket is the fact that opposition leader Bill Shorten has shown he’s unable to transform himself and/or his backward-looking party into one that instils confidence in terms of economic management.

Shorten-led Labor is thus unlikely to ever be viewed as competent in that key area.

That being so, it’s crucial the Hockey-Cormann duo performs far more credibly than to date.

Among other things, no cigars when celebrating tax hikes, especially when TV crews are around.

But two other dark horses stalk Labor, and possibly its leader – the Royal Commission into Union Governance and Corruption, and the Murray Inquiry into Australia’s financial system, including workers’ superannuation funds.

Shorten has long and close connections to the union movement, considering his time as AWU national secretary, while union-dominated super funds will also come under scrutiny.

He’ll therefore need to tread warily during election campaign 2016, in his bid to show he’s a friend of the workers, and not only of well-healed and powerful union bosses with their big slush funds and/or handsomely paid superannuation fund board positions.


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