04/11/2013 - 04:57

Labor: last of the big spenders?

04/11/2013 - 04:57


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The Abbott government may be on the right track with plans to axe the carbon and mining taxes, but after that it’s anyone’s guess.

Labor: last of the big spenders?
POWER PUSH: There’s little evidence an Abbott government is any less centralist than its Labor predecessor.

Just as one swallow does not a summer make, so too the first 60 or so days of the forthcoming Abbott government aren't necessarily a template of what will materialise over the next three years.

I left Australia for a research trip to the US a week before election day, confident the Abbott-led coalition would emerge victorious.

With that box ticked, what else did I expect?

Firstly, moves to scrap Labor's carbon tax. Secondly, removal of the additional Canberra tax, over and above corporate taxes, on a few targeted mining companies.

All the noises coming from the new government indicate bills to repeal these two imposts will be introduced to parliament upon its resumption; so two more boxes ticked.

And finally, I expected moves to trim the growing national debt.

Well, on current trends it appears I'll only score two out of three, since debt is likely to remain at least at the Rudd-Swan levels into the foreseeable future.

What did I not expect and why?

I most certainly did not expect the size of government – meaning Canberra's take of the average taxpayer's income – to be trimmed, even slightly.

And the reason is that there's nothing in Mr Abbott's past to suggest smaller and leaner governance will occur.

True, his treasurer, Joe Hockey, made noises in such a direction, but those utterances are already being viewed as mere pre-election jabber.

My advice, therefore, would be not to expect that anything much will be done by way of the size of Canberra's tax take and bureaucratic involvement.

It's helpful here to recall that, immediately after the coalition government's 2007 defeat, Mr Abbott wrote a book titled Battlelines.

The most significant point of this semi-autobiographical account of Canberra-style governance was Mr Abbott's recommendation that constitutional changes be put into place to give Canberra an even-greater say in our lives.

To make matters worse, he even included in the appendices a recommended draft constitutional amendment bill for such further Canberra power grabbing.

In other words, he's attracted to longstanding Labor Party thinking and action – ever more legislative powers to Canberra.

Furthermore, Mr Abbott did nothing to dispel our belief in his centralist tendencies when, earlier this year former Greens leader Bob Brown and ex-prime minister Julia Gillard planned for Canberra to embrace control of local government authorities via referendum.

This was the real litmus test not only for Mr Abbott, but also the now 70-year-old Liberal Party, which for so many decades had combated Labor's 1920s-style centralist plan to destroy Australia's federal arrangement.

What was therefore required of the coalition was to vote against holding such a power-grabbling referendum, and if this failed then to combat the proposal in the hustings.

Instead, and shamefully, the Abbott-led coalition voted for the calling of a referendum and even agreed to back it on the hustings.

The only reason the referendum was not held was that when Kevin Rudd retook the Labor leadership from Ms Gillard, her preferred election date of September 14 was changed to September 7.

Clearly now is the time to ask where in the heck are we?

Where are we politically and constitutionally, when both major party blocks – the ALP and the Abbott-led Liberal-National coalition – are essentially singing from the same hymn book whose chorus reads: 'More and bigger, ever bigger, government'?

I should add that I've spoken to several informed friends and contacts who expressed concerns about Mr Abbott's actions, as outlined above.

Most, I should also add, are favourably disposed towards Mr Abbott, primarily because he's done Australians such a huge service in ousting Mr Rudd.

One, not an MP, knows Mr Abbott well.

But even he agrees Battlelines was "terrible centralist stuff".

All also agree that the coalition's Commission of Audit – which will provide its final report to government as part of the 2014-15 budget process – simply kicks the can down the road, rather than making the needed budgetary decisions now.

But, ever the loyal souls, each cautioned me against a hasty final judgement of our new prime minister.

Even Mr Abbott's assistant treasurer and onetime John Howard senior staffer, Arthur Sinodinos, is cautioning in a somewhat similar manner.

"The recently announced Commission of Audit provides a unique opportunity to apply a consistent market-based philosophy to the questions of what government should do and how to do it," he's written.

Okay, let's wait – it's only a few months – to see if a surprise or more of the same wrapped in blue rather than red tinsel awaits us.

I'm hoping for the best but expecting you know what.


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