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Coalition flexes its muscles? « Previous | |Next »
May 15, 2009

I watched Malcolm Turnbull's Budget reply address last night whilst cooking dinner. It was a strong presentation or performance in Parliament that was undercut by thin content. He looked a strong leader who had his finger on the pulse of things.

Apart from the tobacco tax proposal, Turnbull confined his comments to previously announced policies including tax relief for small business, an attack on red tape and reform of insolvency law. He also proposed the parliamentary budget office to advise governments and the creation of a Commission for Sustainable Finances to determine responsible spending levels.


Debt debt debt. Deficit deficit deficit. Labor is economically irresponsible was the campaign message for voter land. There was very little about how the Coalition would reduce government expenditure to bring it into line with the large fall in revenue die to the collapse of the boom. Debt debt debt. Only the Coalition had the courage to take the tough decisions, and they up to the task and were ready to take on the job. Bring it on. etc etc etc. The rhetoric remains the same.

What was offered amidst the debt/deficit rhetoric was a proposal to increase in tax on cigarettes as a substitute for removing the government's mean test for the private health insurance rebate. The Coalition was going to stand their ground on private health insurance and oppose it in the Senate. This was done in the name of both individual self-reliance and independence (no mention of the 30% rebate or subsidy of course) and good public health measure to reduce smoking (no mention of the Coalition's entrenched opposition to the alcopops tax of course).

These kind of policy contradictions do not worry the Coalition backbench. They just paper over them with the debt/deficit rhetoric. Nor are they worried that the means test on the private health insurance rebate is reasonable and generous — cutting in for couples at $150,000, and it is only at a combined income of $240,000 that a couple gets nothing by way of a subsidy.

The 'bring it on now' rhetoric---Turnbull is ready to fight an early election over the Coalition's decision to block Labor's plan to cut private health insurance rebates--- is political huff and puff. As Michelle Grattin points out in The Age:

Although it is improbable that Rudd would go to the polls very early, the threat could destabilise the Opposition. It is in the worst of shapes to have to even contemplate fighting an election — without money, without policies and without its leader having built up credibility with the public.This is a shoot-from-the-hip gesture that is badly conceived in both tactics and substance.

No matter. Opposing the means test on private health insurance rebate is a strongly symbolic issue in the Liberal heartland and it gives committed Liberal partisans something to fight for to defend their self-reliance values.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:02 PM | | Comments (38)


It was only a year ago the Coalition (under Brendon Nelson) was furiously defending UTE MAN from a tax on his pre-mixed Bundy and coke or a scotch and dry. (Doesn't UTE Man drink beer? Aren't pre-mixed drinks for girls?) Now the Coalition is now proposing to tax UTE MAN cos he smokes cigarettes. Isn't that the heavy handed nanny state denying UTE MAN his pleasures and his choices. Poor UTE MAN. Serfdom is his lot in life.

The Coalition is a comedy show---one of the best on free-to-air television. Hockey is the amiable clown. I just love him doing economic outrage!

What surprised me with Turnbull is that he didn't bother to do a bit of substantive policy and point out the contradictions in the Rudd/Swan budget strategy. The infrastructure projects will generate the recovery is their argument.

Rudd, Tanner and Swan are selling the budget as nation building, yet most of the infrastructure spend is a couple of years down the track when, according to their budget, economic growth is chugging along very nicely.

He only needed a paragraph to make the point.

at least with Turnbull you don't get the contempt for experts and facts, in which every problem could be solved with a political solution. He does respect Treasury and the Reserve Bank.

one thing The Nationals love doing is recycling the past. Expect attacks on climate change scientists--and science--- when the ETS legislation enters the Senate in late June. They are looking to destroy any chance for a cap-and-trade measure.For them reducing carbon emissions would be like "living in Nigeria."

Scaring voters into believing cap-and-trade will tax the daylights out of them has been the Coalition's modus operandi all along their time in opposition. They are not not terribly interested in providing sound alternatives. They are interested in killing the bill.

yeah the Nationals are both retreating to their electoral rump and moving to start "speaking crazy to power" in response to the emissions trading scheme. Vaudeville returns.

I thought we were looking at Turnbull the campaigner last night, and it wasn't a bad performance from that angle. One simple message pounded over and over.

As Bronwyn Bishop is determined to demonstrate today, Turnbull can be as statesman like and prime ministerial as he wants, his party will do whatever they please.

An election campaign would be a nightmare for them.

Its strange about the Nats, climate change and farmers.
Here in SA I've talked to a lot of farmers in the past couple of years. The best way to get a farmer talking is mention rain, crops, yields and wool/wheat prices. So I do and then ask about climate change.
And ALL of them accept it as a fact.
Because they see it happening.
Many have climate records going back decades, or their dad does or the neighbours, and so they know its a trend and not temporary or a plot. And it worries them.
Several I have spoken to are already changing their farming techniques, more deep tilling for example, more interest and action on revegetation to protect the land from wind evaporation etc.
So Barnaby and some of the Federal Nats denialism is, as far as I can tell, out of synch with the experience and belief of a lot of their constituents.
Maybe its a Qld/east coast thing.

In support of my comment above there is this.
Which includes this:
"The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) believes that climate change may be the greatest threat confronting Australian farmers and their productive capacity... today and into the future..."

Now after that the picture becomes like a work of abstract art, it can be difficult to deciper a simple message.
It will be interesting to watch how farmers react in the very near future, there could be some surprises.
There is almost an element os schizophrenia around, ideology battling with reality resulting in confusion and contradiction. In the '07 campaign the NFF had material that strongly supported ALP policy re climate change and its impact on farming. In fact I was tempted to cite and quote some of it in adverts in the electorate where I was involved in campaigning. Didn't have the cah tho'.
But when push came to shove the Nats reverted to type and put out a standard anti ALP TV [ union thugs type of thing] campaign in my rural electorate.

But things can change.

Message to Malcolm from the "ute man" who smokes. I'll be damned if I'll subsidise some silvertails plastic surgery and/or botox injections. You have shown your true colours. Look after the top end of town at all costs. Is'nt rorting the tax system enough for them?

I guess the line that caught my eye was the chuckle-raising stuff about "hard decisions".
These people never took "hard decisions", when it came to their own. Quite the opposite. ( and how about the squawking over super and health rebates!! ).
The "hard decisions" they took were always against vulnerable people with no way of fighting back.
They were always of the "this is going to hurt you more than me" type.
Ps, welcomed Nan's refreshing "ute man" dissertation.


The Nats have a lot to worry about politically, so it's interesting you say that farmers are worried.

I supposed it would be unthinkable for the Nats and Greens to work together, Greenies being the farmers' natural enemy, supposedly. It's an awkward situation.

You mention Qld. Barnaby is the iconic Nat at the moment, and Qld farmers still want to clear fell, so maybe the tensions between Qld Nats and other states is an added complication. Not to mention the LNP here. Up here farmers are campaigning to combat their bad environmental image, which also has to do with water, I suspect. Yet Barnaby is in Canberra yelling at everyone about how he'll never accept climate change policy, no matter what it is.

Given your anecdotal evidence, it seems that farmers are very badly represented. What a mess.

I'm with Nan, Macca and Paul on Ute man. If you're going to invent a social group for political purposes, the point is to claim that group's loyalty through policy.

I would imagine Ute Man would be chucking back Bundy and colas and chain smoking between stints building government funded road, rail and port facilities. He'd be comparing Tanya Plibersek with Julie Bishop. And as Macca points out, he wouldn't be too keen on funding some toff's facial reconstruction.

Maybe farmers and ute man could strike a convenient political deal between them?

Hockey and Turnbull could have had a decent crack at the rosy scenario as Australia's economy grows in China's wake. I assume that China's big growth over the next few years will come from a switch from exports to a domestic -led recovery.

yes and Malcolm does look good in a toga.

The Coalition does have a problem on economic credibility because Howard and Costello because they left behind a budget structure that couldn't return to surplus in recovery.

We had been told by them that there would be surpluses into the next decade. However, the budget was shot at the time of the election because too much of the revenue windfall from the resources boom had been handed back as tax cuts and increased spending.

"The structural budget balance deteriorated from 2002-03, moving into structural deficit in 2006-07," Treasury said in budget paper No1 on Tuesday night.

Despite Costello's hints about Howard overspending, the Coalition pretends that it left the budget battle-ready for the global recession. They are not going to admit that their economic heritage was one of structural deficit--- and so leaving the budget vulnerable to shocks when the boom went bust.

not only were the monies from boom years squandered, but Howard and Costello in their last years spent on handouts to swinging voters more than was coming in. So by 2007 the budget was in structural deficit.

Is that what Treasury is saying now?

Looks like the punters don't like the prospective pension changes.
Thoughts, any one?

hard to say. It is not a big change--65 to 67--- and the change is way in the future-- raised progressively from 2017 to 2023. The polls indicated was no loss of public support for the ALP, only for Kevin Rudd's preferred prime minister rating fell by six percentage points.

Thanks Nan.
Suspect it was a beat up, but still think they should have gone more after middle class welfare rather than pension age and continuing the time honoured and barbaric pursuit of those modern day scapegoats, the unemployed, etc.
It's sending me a message I don't like- that those who can least afford it are again going to be penalised for the errors of the wealthy and middle classes.
I know this stuff goes down well in Ute Man/ Kath and Kim mortgage land and there is eventually an election coming up won or lost there, but I don't like the stridency of the message coming from Rudd- let him go re-read the Beatitudes.

I think you would have to look at the polls for the 50plus groups before and now to judge whether they are concerned. People in the 40 and under wouldn't be thinking that far ahead mostly and those that are would realise that they needed to be self funded anyway. I think there was some stats going around last year that pointed to 2035 needing a retirement age of 75.
No surprises in the polls. I would be surprised given all the circumstances if there wasn't a slow leak from Labor.

It will be interesting to see how they play it from this point. Labor know that the punters wont buy the same sort of campaign as Kevin 07 unless there is a new leader in place.The marketing boys will be hard at the white boards already I expect. If things progress downward with no hope of an upward trend in sight before the next election my money at this point is on Costello. But as usual I am months ahead of you's lot again.

I doubt that there will be a double dissolution election. Paul Kelly points out a likely scenario:

A double dissolution is likely to cut the Coalition's numbers from 37 to 34 senators or even fewer. It is likely to increase Labor's Senate numbers from 32 to 34. The deeper point, however, is that a double dissolution based on present polls would probably establish a Left-Centre Senate majority lasting for some years, with vast policy consequences, a horror scenario for the Coalition.

The biggest winners from a double dissolution may be the Greens. Now sitting with five senators, a double dissolution would surely give the Greens a senator in each state (with a quota of only 7.7 per cent being required) and probably two in Tasmania, making a total of seven. The Greens would probably command the Senate balance of power, further entrenching them as the third party, a highly equivocal outcome for Labor.

The Coalition would be shooting themselves in the foot if they adopt a 'bring it on' stance.

I reckon that they will increasingly go after Howard's middle class welfare because the budget is in structural deficit---there's not enough coming in to pay for what is going out. So it is either increased taxes of cut in expenditure.

yes most likely not.

There will be an election though and the longer it is off means things economically in OZ will be worse. So it makes good sense from the oppositions point to be later and from the governments point to be sooner.

I'm not sure I can see a rise in the Green vote happening at this stage. The world downturn has stifled the momentum they were building I think. Economics/Jobs vs Environment. Its nice to have an alternative party like we once had the democrats but there is a general consensus of opinion I think among a large percentage of the punters that the greens lack economic credibility.

not in the Inner city electorates of the capital cities or in the Senate. There is a continual peeling off from Labor to the Greens.

if the economy favours the Coalition, then emissions trading favours The Greens. They stand to win on this issue no matter which way the wind blows. If Rudd squips on the legislation, then the Greens stand for the making the shift to a low carbon economy. If the legislation passes, the Greens stand to win by toughening it up.

This is a big issue about transforming Australia and green jobs make more future sense than dirty coal jobs.The message is very simple: The Greens stand for the future, the Coalition stand for the past. That cuts through to the inner city professionals and the young.

The Greens will also broaden their base by appealing to some of the old Democrat electorate. They now come across as responsible legislators in the Senate--doing all the unsung hard work --just like the Democrats once did. Wong will be talking to Milne for sure not Minchin. The Coalition have dealt themselves out of the issue by saying no in order to prop up their base.

Costello is yesterday's man. He hasn't got that much to say these days even on the global financial crisis, now that he is no longer Treasurer.

Yes nan he is yesterdays man.
But in marketing terms he could be sold as the great white hope.

One can't let truth get in the way of a good election campaign.

there is no need for a great white hope. Turnbull is looking good. He has traction. As they say in Canberra he is beginnig to cut through.

The Coalition does have a problem with self-identification. They are declining a lot among young voters, whereas senior citizens are (relatively) non-disillusioned. But Rudd has successfully driven a wedge there between the self-refunded retirees and the rest with his recent pension increase.

I think it is more the case of Kevin beginning to look the mirror cracked that is adding gloss to Turnbull. Costello only gets one chance and his timing must be perfect. Turnbull has only to keep going and not shoot himself in the foot too often between now and then.

Yes but that can be fixed with a catchy jingle. They just have to find something that rhymes with self-identification.
Rudd has a job in front of him with the pensioners. There was a large percentage of people in general including pensioners who were just sick of Howard and ticked that way in the booths. That aspect will be missing next election.

You're very upbeat for a Lib supporter Les. Good for you.

Conservative commenters elsewhere are in despair.

Thanks Lyn,

Though sometimes late at night I do get a little down though. But in these dark times a like to imagine you sitting in front of the pc wearing your Kevin Rudd pj's and that cheers me up immensely.

Sadly Les, I don't have any KR pj's. Just an XXL mens Sam's Our Man T-shirt someone gave me after the election. Remember Sam? He lost.

Given the choice, I'd prefer Lindsay Tanner pj's over Rudd any day.

Sure you wouldn't prefer Wilson Tuckey long johns or a Dick Adams singlet, Lynn?
Come to think of it, a "Bronwyn Bishop Nursing Homes" spencer?

Yes Tanner is a good choice.

And for that special guy in your life on these cold nights hows about a John Howard Willy Warmer?

There's probably a market for the Wilson Tuckey brand, but underwear doesn't immediately spring to mind. Hammers maybe? Those pounding things you use to tenderise meat? Earth moving equipment?

I can imagine a Bronwyn Bishop range of shower caps.

There are so many tasteless jokes to be made along 'effed by Howard' lines. Would you call it a Janette?

I reckon you'd look good in innyfink, Lynn!!
But "effed by a Gannette"..?
Bit of a heiffer even for enthusiasts, (pulverising) horizontal inferior?