I just came across this MPI speech by Andrew Leigh. Damn fine job. Straightforward, informed, powerful. In a world in which people somehow get divided into subject wonks and sliver-tongues, it’s amazing how much actually knowing stuff and having a perspective on things gives you a platform on which to communicate.
Can we please have a promotion for this man. I can think of one or two people who might make way for him, but here at Club Pony, we don’t name names like that.
(Note Leigh’s outrage at the fact that we will go to the next election, as we did to the last, and as we did in the last NSW and Victorian elections with an opposition that gets its accountants signed off by its accounting friends, without the slightest regard for the basic laws of arithmetic. Of course the media will cover it all with ‘he said – she said’ blather and the farce will continue. )
If I were sitting on the opposition’s tactics committee, choosing an MPI for today, it certainly would not be the topic of economics. I would be thinking about dog whistles, about some sort of safe ground to talk about, but surely not the topic of economics, because those opposite have lost all credibility when it comes to economic reform. On economics, ours is the party of Hawke and Keating, theirs the party of McMahon and Fraser.
In its fundamentals, the Australian economy today is the product of economic reforms that were put in place by Labor governments and opposed by those opposite. Under the Rudd and Gillard governments, we have seen very clear contrasts. When the global financial crisis hit, it was our side of politics that put in place timely, targeted and temporary fiscal stimulus that 200,000 saved jobs. Their side of politics would have let tens of thousands of small businesses go to the wall.
When we had to deal with climate change, we listened to economists and we put in place a carbon price, a price on the negative externality that is carbon pollution. They went for command and control, a scheme which they could not find a single economist to back. With minerals prices at 140-year highs—BHP posting a record $23 billion profit and Fortescue telling the House economics committee they have never paid a cent of company tax—we on this side of the House think it might be fair to ask the mining companies to pay a bit more tax. Those on that side of the House think that mining companies are paying too much tax.
At the last election we on this side of the House went to the Australian people with costings that added up. Those on the other side of the House went with costings that were $11 billion short, done by a private accounting firm. When Treasury had the temerity to say, ‘You’re out by $11 billion or so’, they immediately came into this place and started attacking Treasury officials. They even walked into this place and started attacking Ken Henry, the man that Peter Costello appointed in 2001 to head the Department of Treasury. As soon as they did not like what Treasury had to say, they were out there shooting the messenger.
When the member for Lyne proposed a Parliamentary Budget Office, we accepted it. We put in place a parliamentary inquiry, which reported back unanimously—including the member for Higgins—with a model for a Parliamentary Budget Office. But as soon as those opposite realised that that would mean the Australian people could actually see their costings, they moved to gut it. They walked away from the report that the member for Higgins had signed on to. At the next election those opposite will again be going to the Australian people with numbers produced by a private accounting firm.
When it came to the fuel tax reforms that Peter Costello introduced into this parliament as Treasurer in 2003, after an eight-year lead time—an implementation period unprecedented in modern policy making—those opposite said they would not support them. They were willing to back away from these reforms at the last minute. We on this side of the House believe in economic reform. In this case we believed in a Peter Costello economic reform, while those on that side of the House decided that cheap political opportunism beats consistency any day.
Recently, we have been moving to close a tax loophole on the petroleum resource rent tax, a tax loophole that the Howard government had fought against in the courts, as did we when we came to power. But those opposite have decided that they want to keep the loophole open—to the benefit of Esso and the detriment of the Australian taxpayer.
In the world of international trade, we are pursuing free trade. It is good to see the Minister for Trade here in the chamber—a passionate advocate of boosting free trade—because he knows, as do we on this side, that it is free trade that benefits Australian families. Those on that side of the House would start a trade war with New Zealand. They would support anti-dumping rules that are not World Trade Organisationcompliant, anti-dumping rules that would see retaliatory tariffs hurting Australian companies.
The old party of Hewson and Costello is dead, buried and cremated. What we have instead is the Tea Party of Australian politics. You do not have to believe me on this; let us hear from some prominent Liberals about the economic policy nous of the Leader of the Opposition.
In the Costello Memoirs, the former Treasurer wrote about the Leader of the Opposition:
Never one to be held back by the financial consequences of decisions, he had grandiose plans for public expenditure. At one point when we were in government he asked for funding to pay for telephone and electricity wires to be put underground throughout the whole of his Northern Sydney electorate to improve the amenity of the area. He also wanted the Commonwealth to take over the building of local roads and bridges in his electorate.
That is the economic policymaking giant who is leading the current opposition. We can also hear from John Hewson, a former Leader of the Opposition, writing in the AustralianFinancial Review on 24 May 2010:
Tony is genuinely innumerate. He has no interest in economics and he has no feeling for it.
We on this side of the House commissioned the Henry tax review, the biggest tax review in a generation. We have set about implementing recommendations flowing out of that review, as you would expect. We are cutting the company tax rate. We are abolishing the inefficient dependent spouse tax offset with its old-fashioned notion that the bloke works and the woman stays at home. We are scrapping the environmentally disastrous fringe benefits tax rules for cars. We are getting rid of the inefficient entrepreneurs tax offset and replacing it with a more appropriate instant asset write-off for small businesses. We are introducing a minerals resource rent tax that is both efficient and fair.
This country’s economic position is strong. You do not have to take just the Gillard government’s word for this; let me quote a few overseas sources. One source said:
Australia’s economy is one of the strongest in the developed world.
That was the Financial Times on 1 November 2011. Another source said:
Australia’s economy is booming … Even during the GFC, Australia, unlike many Western economies, registered modest growth.
That was the International Herald Tribune on 31 May 2011. Another overseas source said:
On the face of this comparative performance, Australia has serious bragging rights. Compared to most developed countries, our economic circumstances are enviable.
That was a London source—here we go: the Leader of the Opposition was in London on 11 November 2011. That goes to show that you have to take the Leader of the Opposition to London before you get some economic sense out of him.
The Leader of the Opposition now promises repeal. He wants to repeal the carbon price; that means cutting pensions and raising taxes. He wants to repeal the mining tax; that will involve reversing the instant asset write-off. He wants to stop superfast broadband in its tracks. After a bit of flip-flopping, he has decided that he will not repeal this government’s superannuation increase in the event he were to come into office. That superannuation increase, as members are aware, is from nine to 12 per cent, but gradually, from 2013-14 to 2019-20. At the time of the next election, superannuation will have gone up from nine to 9.25 per cent.
The Leader of the Opposition will repeal a carbon price for which future permits have been purchased and a mining tax that will have far-reaching consequences on investments, but he will let go the superannuation increase that will have only gone one-twelfth of its way. He will let it run until 2020. I think it is a good decision by the Leader of the Opposition, but it is frankly bizarre given his position on other policies. He said he is doing that because that is what the Howard government did in 1996, but it is not. They actually froze the Keating government’s superannuation increases; they did not increase them as planned. Is it because the Leader of the Opposition believes in superannuation? Probably not, given that he told this place on 25 September 1995:
Compulsory superannuation is one of the biggest con jobs ever foisted by government on the Australian people.
The fact is that those opposite are against taxes and they are in favour of revenue measures. What they do not realise is that the budget has to balance. If they are repealing a law, that law should be the law of mathematics—that is the law they really need to abolish. If you are a polluter, a tobacco company, a big miner or someone who thinks they have found a loophole, the coalition will give you a hearing. Their policy is no special interest left behind.