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05 May 2014

Bluff, Bluster and Bulldust

What a load of codswallop. How stupid do they take us for? Many would not have noticed but this government has begun its term of office reading directly from the Book of Howard. So deprived of ideas, of savvy, of intellectual nous, of vision and pretty much everything else that constitutes leadership, they (mostly Abbott and Hockey) simply copy from the tactics of bluff, bluster and bull-dust employed by the Howard government in 1996.

They do this to condition the electorate to the pain that is coming and to blame the previous government for putting them (us) there. They blatantly cloud the already heavily polluted atmosphere of political skulduggery by casting doubt, fear and uncertainty across the landscape. They want us to accept the conservative government philosophy of favouring the well-off by dressing it up as repairs essential to our future and presenting themselves as our economic saviours. They do this because when all is said and done, they really do represent the big end of town. The NSW ICAC inquiry makes that plain for all to see. It is endemic in national Liberal philosophy. They then try to pass it off as fiscally responsible in the mistaken belief that backing big business will ultimately benefit the not so well-off at some stage in the future. Codswallop! In his budget preparation, Hockey seems to be ignoring or overlooking glaring examples of tax expenditure waste such as mining subsidies, generous tax brackets for high income earners and unnecessary superannuation perks in favour of squeezing those they deem as easy targets.

And last week they shot themselves in the foot.
So determined were they to paint a picture of impending doom that they have frightened themselves. A back room revolt is brewing. The troops are in disarray. The Paid Parental Leave scheme has been modified to placate backbenchers on the government side. The planned changes to the Racial Discrimination Act will be scrapped or watered down largely due to backbench pressure. Tony Abbott's management style is aggravating his own side. His 'captain's call' decisions are fragmenting former supporters. Coalition backbenchers have a nervous eye on the 2016 election. They are haunted by voter reaction to the bluff, bluster and bulldust that preceded the 1998 election. Labor won 18 additional seats in that election with a 4.6% swing and 14 of them were taken off the Coalition. In a poorly balanced electoral distribution Labor won 51% of the two party preferred vote but only 45% of lower house seats. In 2016 the electoral boundaries will reflect a better balanced position than 1998. This time Labor needs a 3.6% swing to win 21 seats and many Coalition backbenchers know already that the damage Abbott has done to the credibility of the government means they will lose their seats. They have nothing to lose in voicing their discontent.

What Abbott and Hockey have failed to learn from their previous time in government is that anxiety politics is an unpredictable animal and can bite both ways depending on voter mood. This constant harping on about Labor's wasteful spending has backfired. It was the Coalition's reckless spending of a decade ago that has placed us in the position we are now. One could argue that the Howard/Costello spending spree of a decade ago was affordable then. It was, but the Howard government failed to realise it was not sustainable. It was affordable on the back of a mining boom. Were they so short-sighted that they could not see the mining boom had a use-buy date? Could they not see that a more responsible policy would have been to put the money away for a rainy day, Or a GFC? No, all they could see was that they had enough money to dish out enough middle class welfare to buy enough votes to win in 2004. The budget position and the longer term outlook that they now find themselves addressing is of their own making, not Labor's. What goes around comes around... spectacularly!

The Commission of Audit has also backfired. I cannot see one recommendation on raising revenue. It's all about cutbacks. They have also conveniently ignored tax expenditures, i.e. concessions and tax breaks for big business. This leaves Hockey and Abbott highly exposed. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. They will, of course, implement the least damaging to their reputation and leave the rest for someone else. The impact will be minor initially and the deficits and debt will continue to rise. But the reputation of the Coalition as the more responsible economic managers will be in tatters. After all the bluff, bluster and bull dust, they won't have the balls to match the rhetoric. They will squib the hard choices and hope to be forgiven at the polls. The voters saw through that deception in 1998. They will do so again in 2016. But this time the electoral boundaries will reveal a different story.

And as for the retirement age, changes will happen sooner than you think. The increase will be phased in over an 18 year period beginning in 2017, just 3 years from now. That is when the original increase in the pension age to 67 introduced by the Rudd government begins. From 1 July 2017, the qualifying age for Age Pension will increase from 65 years to 65 and a half years. The qualifying age will then rise by six months every two years, reaching 67 by 1 July 2023. By 2023 the pension age will be 67. Then it climbs by 6 months every two years so that by 2027 it will be 68, by 2031 it will be 69 and by 2035 it will be 70. It will affect people born after 1952, not 1965.

No surprises indeed.

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