01/03/2005 - 21:00

Tax take swings poll result

01/03/2005 - 21:00

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Both major political parties may now resolutely embrace presidential-style campaigning by thrusting their leaders at voters but, at rock bottom, contemporary election campaigns are encounters between party-hired advertising agencies.

Tax take swings poll result

Both major political parties may now resolutely embrace presidential-style campaigning by thrusting their leaders at voters but, at rock bottom, contemporary election campaigns are encounters between party-hired advertising agencies.

Election campaign 2005 very much fitted that pattern.

Essentially it was a mild-mannered five-week publicity encounter between the marketing team employed by the big taxing and big spending Gallop Labor Government and those employed by the potentially even bigger taxing Barnett Liberal/Nationals conservative Opposition.

And Dr Gallop’s gurus won since they set out from day one to portray Colin Barnett as a bigger spending Mr Grumpy, while Mr Barnett’s marketing boffins only depicted Dr Gallop as an ear-picking ditherer.

Now, while Mr Barnett’s depiction remained unchanged throughout those five-weeks Labor’s advertisers were forced to make a slight mid-campaign adjustment because of his surprise introduction of the $2 billion-plus un-assessed Kimberley-to-Perth canal.

However, all they needed to do was to reaffirm their big spending message to portray Mr Barnett not merely as a big spender, but rather as a reckless gung-ho potential super-spender.

What Mr Barnett therefore saw as visionary nation building was depicted by Dr Gallop’s gurus as more evidence that a super-spending spree lay ahead for all.

This intensification of Labor’s original message explains how in the fortnight following the canal announcement, Mr Barnett forfeited any chance he had of becoming premier.

Just after the election date was announced Newspoll’s findings showed Labor’s backing at 42 per cent, compared with 44 per cent for the Coalition.

That 2 per cent difference, if maintained or slightly increased, was enough to snatch four, perhaps even six marginal seats from Labor, and thus government.

However, by the evening of Wednesday February 23 – the day before Mr Barnett’s amazing $200 million televised costing blooper – the polls were already showing a turnaround, with Labor at 45 per cent and the Coalition at 39.5 per cent.

With preferences from leftist Greens and the array of minor traditionalist or conservative-style parties effectively cancelling themselves out, the bandwagon had well and truly turned Labor’s way.

Then came that televised $200 million Barnett costing blooper, which was beamed across much of WA on the evening of Thursday February 24 and in newspapers the following day, 24 hours before election day.

Any tax-sensitive swinging voters still in doubt had little choice but to opt for Labor, despite Mr Barnett’s very occasional highlighting of Dr Gallop’s dishonored 2001 promise not to raise taxes.

What had occurred between Dr Gallop calling the election in late January and February 26 was that both sides told the truth on each other.

Their respective campaign promises indicated that, whoever won, taxpayers faced increasing taxes plus higher state debt over financial years 2005-06 to 2008-09.

But only Labor’s advertising agency succeeded in getting its Barnett the big spender warnings across.

The $2-billion-plus Kimberley canal had given Labor’s gurus a free kick plus a 50-metre-plus penalty. And the $200 million Barnett costing blooper further reinforced their original message.

Swinging voters in crucial marginal seats, which many Liberals were expecting to win, were therefore left with an unenviable choice of backing a big or a bigger taxation administration.

Understandably a crucial number opted for the smaller of these.

Campaign 2005 therefore showed that the conservatives no longer believe in focusing upon efficiency of delivery of public services and a commitment to keeping government smaller and at bay.

Conservatives such as Mr Barnett and Prime Minister John Howard have thrown that long-standing non-socialist political and governing tradition to the wind.

Conservatives at both state and federal levels have decided it’s better to win by buying votes, by taxing and spending ever more, than by carefully and doggedly offering to tailor publicly-funded programs to enhancing self-reliance and limiting government.

Last October’s federal election demonstrated this well and Mr Barnett only confirmed the existence of this new trend.

Although outbidding Latham-led Labor worked for big spending John Howard, WA Labor’s advertising agency cleverly deflected any suggestion of the same to Dr Gallop and instead portrayed the Barnett-led conservatives as reckless spenders.

What of the future?

Unfortunately, Dr Gallop’s record in this regard tells us that prospects for taxpayers, not-withstanding Mr Barnett’s defeat, remain nearly as bleak.

Labor, between 2001 and 2005, gained a huge $7 billion more in revenue than expected.

That’s three-and-a-half Kimberley canals, if the Tenix/Barnett estimate for that project is to be believed.

This bonanza came about largely because of the boosting of state taxes during an upswing of the business cycle.

Let’s not forget that Dr Gallop promised in February 2001 not to increase taxes, something he dishonored in three of his four budgets.

And net debt under him is set to come in during 2008-09 at just below $8 billion, compared with $4.2 billion at the end of the 2003-04.

Or, as Liberal frontbencher Norman Moore so succinctly pointed out – this will mean we’ll revisit WA Inc indebtedness levels.

Now that’s the record of the man who hired an advertising team that built a campaign around portraying Colin Barnett as a reckless spender.

If Labor’s gurus are to be believed we should be thankful Mr Barnett won’t be premier and treasurer, as they’d exposed him as set to tax and borrow even more than their employer.

But the 2005 conservative loss would have a silver lining if Mr Barnett and his successor had learned that attempting to outspend WA’s social democrats is a ruinous path both for conservatism and taxpayers.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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