It’s not surprising that the government has decided to target Bill Shorten personally and to run a scare campaign on Labor’s policies rather than pointing to the scoreboard after two terms in government. There’s not a lot worth drawing attention to.
When asked about his government’s achievements on Monday night, Malcolm Turnbull claimed the Gonski school-funding reforms which, as Leigh Sales reminded him, are just fine-tuning of a Labor policy that the Coalition fought tooth and nail against.
He mentioned the restoration of the ABCC but the Commissioner has been receiving some flak from judges.
In April last year, a case brought by Nigel Hadgkiss against the CFMEU was labelled “an abuse of process” by the judge who ruled the director of Fair Work was being “unjustifiably vexatious” and was seeking to “relitigate” matters that had already been settled between the employer and the union.
Yet this case was one often mentioned by Michaelia Cash and Malcolm Turnbull to justify the reintroduction of the ABCC in December last year.
In March this year, Hadgkiss was in the firing line again when a federal court judge blasted the ABCC for wasting time and taxpayers’ money on taking two CFMEU officials to court for “having a cup of tea with a mate”.
In scathing and extraordinary criticism of the construction industry watchdog, Justice Tony North told parties on Friday it was “astounding” that commissioner Nigel Hadgkiss had briefed silk and conducted days of hearing with dozens of participants, including Australian Federal Police, over “such a miniscule, insignificant affair”.
“For goodness sake, I don’t know what this inspectorate is doing.”
He said when the ABCC “use[s] public resources to bring the bar down to this level, it really calls into question the exercise of the discretion to proceed”.
Malcolm claimed another achievement was “reducing company tax so that small and medium businesses can invest and get ahead.”
Yet the March quarter business investment survey showed that firms in non-resource industries had capital outlays of $75 billion in the 12 months to March, which was a minute 0.9 per cent increase over their spending a year earlier. It is exactly the same as they spent in 2008-09, despite 40 per cent growth in the nominal economy in that period.
The Economic Outlook released by the RBA this month showed that strong profits don’t necessarily lead to more investment.
Although mining companies’ profits have been strong over the past year or so, this is not expected to lead to much additional investment spending; information from the Bank’s liaison and company announcements have indicated that firms have generally used the additional income to pay down debt, pay dividends and increase share buybacks.
Capex figures released today show some improvement but the graph tells the real story.
Malcolm also asked “What about reforming child care, so that families on lower incomes in particular get more access to child care than they could before?”
Except you can’t get child care assistance unless you are working, but you can’t work unless the kids are in care. There is no grace period. Families earning $65,710 or less who fail the activity test (minimum four hours a week work or study) will have their access halved to 12 hours a week.
“Maybe you lose a job, you’re between contracts, your casual shifts change or perhaps you have a child who needs to go through therapy assessments, or an elderly relative who needs settling into residential care. For whatever reason, if one parent doesn’t meet the activity test you lose your child care subsidy completely,” said Sam.
The reforms do mean that some working parents needing childcare are better off but it comes at the price of an indexation freeze for two years in the base rate and maximum payment rates for family payments.
Malcolm then bravely claimed “We don’t talk about infrastructure: we’re getting it built. Whether it’s Snowy Hydro; whether it’s the inland rail; whether it is one big infrastructure project after another, we’re getting on with it.”
We are spending $29 million on a feasibility study for Snowy-Hydro and they haven’t even decided the route for the inland rail yet so Malcolm is engaging in premature congratulation.
Danny Price, an energy economist and former adviser to Malcolm Turnbull, said Snowy 2.0 would use 30 per cent more electricity pumping water up a hill than it generated by letting it flow down the hill and put “a massive load on the system, equivalent to a large aluminium smelter”.
“When announcing Snowy 2.0, it was said that water will be pumped up the hill using surplus renewable supply. However, it will be many, many years before that is true. In the meantime the largest beneficiary of Snowy 2.0 will be base-load, coal-fired generation. The truth of the matter is that Snowy 2.0 breathes new life into coal.”
Malcolm then went to the Coalition safe place.
“What about the way in which we’ve taken one step after another to ensure that Australians are protected against terrorism?”
One could argue that Howard’s decision to invade Iraq, along with the Liberal Party’s deliberate decision to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate, added to the threat rather than alleviating it. They have been warned time and again to stop alienating the Muslim community who are the actual ones keeping us safe.
Malcolm confidently stated that “Every one of our policies will deliver more investment and more employment,” but they claimed the same thing with the abolition of the carbon and mining taxes and the introduction of the free trade agreements, none of which lived up to the promises. The government’s own modelling shows that, by 2035, the three FTAs with China, Japan and Korea will have produced an estimated total of 5434 additional jobs.
If that was the best Turnbull could come up with, it’s no wonder he has decided his campaign strategy is to say “Labor is running an anti-business, anti-investment, anti-jobs, politics of envy campaign, which will only set us back.”
In the absence of any real achievement or credible policy, empty attack is back.