Over the last two years a number of articles have been written here at the AIMN about tax expenditures and the need to rein them in if the economy is going to reflect a more even distribution of the wealth.
I couldn’t count the number of times mainstream journalists had put the question to former Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.
I cannot recall the number of leading economists that have also added their voice to the need for reform to end the waste of concessions to superannuation, negative gearing, the mining industry and capital gains.
But I know there have been many.
Yet for two years, Hockey and Cormann defended their decisions not to touch these sacrosanct areas of welfare for the wealthy at the expense of the average worker.
It was the elderly, the low paid and the sick who were told to pull their belts in, stop leaning on the rest of us and pay more for health care while receiving less in retirement.
Yet, five minutes after both Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are given their marching orders and despite Mathias Cormann miraculously holding on to a job he is not very good at, the government has finally agreed these areas of obscene generosity can be now be looked at. What has changed?
Former PM Tony Abbott did the rounds of his favourite shock jocks last week to vent some of his angst about the treachery he experienced from within his cabinet that resulted in his overthrow. He has made a point of saying nothing has changed. It would seem he hasn’t looked very far.
This week’s summit, both called for and chaired by Malcolm Turnbull, was a big change. The summit was a means of getting stalled reform initiatives back on the table.
Business groups, unions, welfare and social groups all got to have a say, with the notable exception of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), Abbott’s favourite policy spruiker.
So, some things have changed.
It is inconceivable that Turnbull will not try for further, more substantial changes. The difficulty he faces is the hard right wing of the party who reluctantly allowed him back as leader.
They still don’t trust him. They think he is a Labor stooge, a socialist at heart, one who needs to be watched very carefully.
This lack of trust, this suspicion from the Right that Turnbull is not one of them will continue to undermine his agenda for Australia.
If the Right succeeds in holding him back they will stall the nation’s ability for genuine economic recovery and frustrate the voters.
Under Abbott, the Liberal Party made a hard turn to the right on practically everything. Turnbull wants to bring it back to the centre. In doing that, he risks both alienating an important support base within the party as well as making the party appear no different from Labor on issues that matter to the voters.
The Australian voter will generally go along with either party on foreign policy, immigration and national security. Their main interest is in education, health, climate change and the economy.
Thus far, both parties have no answer to what is perceived as spiralling debt and ongoing deficits. The next election will be fought on these four issues.
The new treasurer, Scott Morrison has already blotted his copy book claiming we only have a spending problem. He is wrong, of course, but the mere fact that this was his opening salve doesn’t look good for his, or the government’s, credentials as economic managers.
In the meantime, Labor will always trump them on climate change, education and health. The next twelve months will be a political watcher’s pig heaven. Can Labor convince the electorate that they were better at running an economy?
Can Turnbull build a consensus between the unions and industry while keeping welfare groups happy? Can he convince anyone that Direct Action is not a waste of money?
One thing is certain. The bad air, the despondency, the feeling of being dragged back into the middle of the last century has passed. We have been liberated from the threat of a recurring dark age. No longer are we embarrassed, ridiculed and portrayed as recalcitrant dimwits from down-under.
For that I’m grateful, but I suspect the turbulence for change within the electorate is going to make life inside the Coalition a smouldering keg of discontent that threatens to explode at any time.
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