Leading article Australia

Malcolm’s masterplan

13 February 2016

9:00 AM

13 February 2016

9:00 AM

Perhaps it’s been Malcolm’s cunning masterplan all along. And here’s how it works: spend month after month raising all sorts of expectations about how we can magically wish away our crippling debt and deficit problems by simply tinkering with this or that tax, by soaking the rich, by raising or not raising the GST, by stealing from self-funded retirees, by nobbling negative gearing, by scurrying after multinationals or by a host of other implausible ‘reform’ measures. Gradually, as each one in turn is dissected and inevitably dismissed, the slow realisation creeps up on the lazy Australian mindset: there is no alternative – we’re going to have to cut government spending.

It’s difficult to think of an alternative explanation for the strange twilight zone of ‘taxation reform’ that we have found ourselves wandering around in these last few months. The ‘I-told-you-so’ brigade are struggling to avoid gloating at Mr Turnbull’s prevarications, and it is to their credit that thus far the disgruntled Abbott rear guard have avoided saying what is really on their minds. But if five months of indecisive waffle and confusion are not a deliberate strategy, then the only alternative explanation is that Mr Turnbull opportunistically seized power back in September without any serious thought as to what his shiny new economic ‘narrative’ might actually consist of in terms of, um, policy. The tedious repetition of Mr Turnbull’s favourite mantras of leaving everything on the table and ruling nothing in or out are becoming the stuff of parody and ridicule, as the bemused taxpayer grips tightly onto their wallet every time the Prime Minister or his Treasurer opens their mouth to speak.

The ever-astute Bill Leak (our suggestion for Australian of the Year when the hapless Mr Morrison finally does the decent thing and steps down) neatly encapsulated the current state of affairs in his ‘Making a meal of it’ cartoon in the Australian recently. As Messrs Turnbull and Morrison shuffle odd plates of food around their table, a chef brings in a huge, steaming stuffed pig labeled ‘Spending Cuts’. ‘Make some room gentlemen, please’ pleads the chef, to which Mr Turnbull replies ‘what, and take something off the table?’ (OK, you have to see it.)

The unpalatable reality that the electorate must either face up to under Mr Turnbull or, if not, then under a successor, is that we need to take the carving knife to our bloated government spending, particularly but not exclusively in the areas of health, welfare and education.

It beggars belief that Mr Turnbull, who prides himself on his years in the private sector working for the likes of Kerry Packer, cannot see the obvious need for across-the-board waste-slashing of the sort any common-or-garden CEO regularly undertakes. As Treasurers Paul Keating and Peter Costello have pointed out in the last few weeks, seriously cutting expenditure involves tedious attention to detail and hard work over a prolonged period. But it can be done. And it must be done.

Start with the ridiculous ‘Welcome to the Ideas Boom’ advertising campaign (see below), reputedly costing around $28 million. Slash. Then move on to all those government grants and handouts advertised willy nilly to anyone sly enough to fill in an application form. Slash. A billion dollars on climate change? Slash. $20 million on preserving indigenous ‘critical cultural knowledge’? Slash. A billion dollars on ‘innovation’? Slash. $300 million dollars on an alcohol and drug prevention task force? Slash. $40 million on fighting Islamism by ‘maintaining a strong, multicultural society’? Slash. Over a billion on the ABC? Slash.

Cutting expenditure doesn’t make you popular. But with any luck the public are now dimly becoming aware that maybe there really is no other alternative. The penny may finally be dropping. Malcolm’s masterplan all along?

Welcome to the ad boom

Readers of the national press would have been forgiven for thinking that the full page yellow and black ads screaming out of our papers were either the Commonwealth Bank trying to spend some of their bloated profits or else a re-run of the fatuous 2013 Palmer United Party election ads. Nope. The massive ‘Welcome to the Ideas Boom’ campaign – complete with dull twitter handle and unimaginative website – is $28 million of tax dollars yet again being wasted by government.

‘The Ideas Boom’, we learn, is ‘building an exciting future for every Australian’. Strange, but isn’t that exactly what Rudd’s Building the Education Revolution was also all about?

Much like all such government campaigns, these ads are devoid of innovation and absent of any ideas.

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Show comments
  • Sue Smith

    Give Morrison a break; he’s only just arrived on the job and his brief is HUGE. I dare you to be able to do it!! And every single idea is howled down by the people, each and every one with a vested interest in the government doing nothing. The people themselves have a case to answer in all of this.

  • maic

    As Sue and other writers have said the general population is reluctant to face the necessity to cut back spending. Perhaps the only way forward is for a government with courage to take the necessary steps with (or most likely) without general citizens consensus – a sort of economic martial law. Normally I am a great one for advocating politicians truly representing and conforming to the wishes of the people but I have to concede that in this case it won’t work. “Sure, cut back on everyone else except my group.”
    Some decades ago New Zealand faced a financial crisis and something had to be done. A Labour Minister of Finance. Roger Douglas, brought in a budget which slashed many government handouts and subsidies. Howls of protest of course and there is no getting away from the fact that some people experienced real hardship.
    Roger Douglas was interviewed about his financial decisions. The reporter put it to him that his budget would lose his Party the next election.
    Roger’s response was interesting. He told the reporter that the decisions had to be made in the long term best interests of the country and that the best interests of the country took priority over his Party’s success or failure at the next election. In other words he was saying if there is a price to pay then we will pay it.
    Now I am not a Labour supporter but I commend the courage of Roger Douglas and the Labour cabinet to do what was necessary.
    Would the current Australian government or it its Labor opposition be prepared to suffer electoral defeat as a price for taking the necessary economic steps to put Australian on a sound financial footing?