15/01/2014 - 16:18

Stalled on the start line

15/01/2014 - 16:18


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The voting public is quickly running out of patience with the Abbott government’s inaction, and seeming inability to offer a clear pathway ahead.

Stalled on the start line
SPENDING PLEDGE: Tony Abbott promised the Coalition government would be on track to a "believable surplus" by the end of its first term.

The voting public is quickly running out of patience with the Abbott government’s inaction, and seeming inability to offer a clear pathway ahead.

Former Australian fast bowler Brett Lee rather tenuously brought sport and politics together following the home side’s recent victory in the fourth Ashes Test when he remarked that: “As soon as Tony Abbott took over, Australia starts winning in the cricket”.

Sadly, whatever effect (if any) the coalition’s electoral success has had on the cricket, the Ashes whitewash has done nothing for Mr Abbott and his team, with opinion polls just before Christmas showing the government badly second to Labor.

Political boffins offered several top-of-mind explanations for the dramatic turnabout just a few months after the election win.

Mr Abbott, some claimed, had foolishly ignored the media and, in response, the Canberra press gallery was inflicting revenge. Another black mark for the government was Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s stumbling performance on education reform, the pundits claimed.

But the explanation I – and I’m finding some others – favour is that sizeable numbers of voters felt let down by early December because coalition MPs, rather than moving to fix the books, sat on their hands.

Many thousands of voters who expected change when they voted for the coalition on September 7 must have felt cheated, because little had fundamentally altered by mid-December’s opinion polls.

To make matters less bearable for such voters, an audit commission was created – apparently to show coalition MPs what needed doing to the books of state.

Understandably many of these voters began wondering what coalition MPs had been doing between December 2007 – when Labor first won office – and September 7 2013.

If they’d been even minimally switched on during those spendthrift years they’d have known before day one what was required and gone ahead doing it.

Instead there’s stalling, perhaps, some suspect, endlessly procrastinating, never shaping up to doing what’s required.

Liberals and Nationals – I’m not only referring to their politicians – know Labor always embraces spending splurges.

Ever greater public spending, via new and higher taxes plus huge borrowings, is embedded in federal Labor’s DNA.

Recall the Whitlam, Hawke, and Keating years.

How could Labor under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard differ, despite the former marketing himself in the lead-up to his December 2007 election victory as an economic conservative, “like John Howard”.

From where I sit, convening an audit commission is simply ‘kicking the can down the track’, and it would seem many other people concur, as evidenced by the pre-Christmas polls.

Many voters know full well that, over the past decade – from the latter Howard years until today – incomes rose by a third for virtually everyone, including welfare recipients.

Australians had never had it so good; and to top things off, imported consumer goods were significantly cheaper due to our high dollar.

Future economic and other historians will undoubtedly see 2003-2013 as a most prosperous decade ever.

Unfortunately, Labor saw this as an opportunity to lift Canberra’s public servant numbers by 30 per cent.

And the nation’s public debt level in those good times grew four-fold, whereas it should either have been markedly slashed or paid right out.

A similar attitude to debt emerged in Western Australia when Colin Barnett became premier and changed the prudent approach of the former Labor treasurer, Eric Ripper.

State net debt on Mr Ripper’s last day as treasurer was below $7 billion. Now it’s $18 billion, and tipped to hit $22.9 billion by 2016.

Little wonder Mr Ripper is seen in Liberal circles as the best ‘Liberal’ treasurer WA never had.

That, and the loss of the state’s AAA credit rating, is the bungled Barnett legacy, with many locals fearing Mr Abbott will emulate that performance now that he and the Greens have teamed up to get rid of the debt ceiling.

Sadly, hints of ‘can kicking’ were evident before election day.

During Mr Abbott’s campaign launch he said: “By the end of a Coalition government’s first term, the budget will be on track to a believable surplus.”

Those words prompted sharp-eyed observer Chris Berg of the Institute of Public Affairs, to remark: “Got that? Not in surplus. On track to surplus.”

Berg noted that as recently as January 2013 then opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey was claiming a budget surplus “in the first year of government”.

Three months later he’d downgraded this to “surplus in the first term”, then further watering down to “within a decade, the budget surplus will be 1 per cent of GDP”, meaning the coalition was claiming we’d be waiting until 2023.

Doesn’t this suggest new-style Abbott-Barnett Liberalism is as comfortable with big spending as federal Labor since the Whitlam years?

Significantly, Messrs Abbott and Barnett both gained power because of Labor’s bungling, not due to anything positive either ever did or contributed to devising realistic economic blueprints ahead.

This leaves voters with few options and perhaps explains why so many on September 7 preferred minor parties like the Liberal Democrats, Australian Christians, and Family First.

Expect more of the voting public to tread that path.


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