01/07/2010 - 00:00

Policies mean more than leaders

01/07/2010 - 00:00


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New prime minister Julia Gillard needs to show her hand on key policy issues ahead of the election.

Australians face the prospect of going to the polls in August, as prime minister Julia Gillard seeks to capitalise on her electoral honeymoon.

There is no certainty over the date; it could be delayed until October or November.

However, there is one thing we can say with certainty – the major political parties must clearly articulate their policies ahead of the poll so that voters can make a fully informed decision.

Unfortunately, there is a major risk that will not happen.

In the space of just a few days, Ms Gillard has moved with considerable dexterity to neutralise most of the big issues damaging Labor’s electoral prospects.

Her very first decision was to scrap the government’s advertising campaign in support of the resource super profits tax, followed by a successful call on mining companies to reciprocate.

“I am throwing open the door to the mining industry ... and ask that the mining industry throws open its mind,” Ms Gillard said in her first press conference.

That is commendable, and promising, but falls a long way short of a done deal.

In the following days, Ms Gillard moved to neutralise rapid population growth, immigration and climate change as issues, using rhetoric that seemed to appeal to both sides of the debate.

For instance, she said she understood people who were concerned about boatloads of asylum seekers arriving on our northern shores, then said she did not agree with those who sought to politicise the issue.

She also supported putting a price on carbon but only wants an emissions trading scheme when there is clear community support.

These are the statements of a politician long on rhetoric but short on substance.

The sceptics point to the fact that Ms Gillard, along with former prime minister Kevin Rudd, Treasurer Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner comprised the ‘gang of four’ that dominated policy making since Labor won power.

They were responsible for the massive fiscal stimulus during the GFC, the contentious ceiling insulation scheme, the back flip on emissions trading, the expensive school building program, and so on.

However Mr Rudd is gone, Mr Tanner plans to retire at the next election, and Ms Gillard is proving above all to be a pragmatist, as evidenced by the manner in which she gained leadership of the Labor Party.

Her path was paved by factional leaders who are unknown to most Australians.

Bill Shorten and Senator David Feeney from Victoria, Senator Mark Arbib from NSW, Don Farrell from South Australia, and Paul Howes and Bill Ludwig from Queensland were key players in securing wide support for Ms Gillard.

The dexterity of the factional leaders, who have a remarkable ability to form alliances with erstwhile enemies, has been matched by Mr Swan’s stance on the resource super profits tax.

Mr Swan spent the past two months championing the planned RSPT, but has now been put in charge of reviewing the proposal.

Surprisingly, he insists the federal government’s return to budget surplus is not dependent on the $9 billion per year revenues from the mining tax.

Why is that?

Because the cut in the company tax rate, the extra infrastructure investment and the boost to superannuation contributions are all dependent on revenue from the mining tax.

“To the extent that those revenues were not available then choices would have to be made between those alternatives,” Mr Swan said earlier this week.

“There is no impact on the budget bottom line given the framework I've just outlined. We are returning to surplus in three years, three years early. I think everyone should be really clear about this.”

When asked if the mining tax dispute can be resolved before the next federal election, Mr Swan indicated the answer is no.

He said the consultation process for major tax reform extends over a “long” period of time.

Which sounds like the mining industry should not hold its breath for a deal before the election.



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