The so-called Great Debate was in the end a depressing one. Neither Tony Abbott nor Kevin Rudd outlined how they’ll address the major challenges confronting this nation.
Both were almost indistinguishable on the issue of climate change and energy, choosing to play down what they might do in the future.
And they both would like to live in a fairy land where you can promise tax cuts but not the expenditure cuts that need to go with them. Fairfax’s Peter Hartcher issued the pivotal question:
Ken Henry has said that any government, any incoming government, whether led by you [Rudd] or Mr Abbott, will be forced into a permanent process – and that's quoting Ken Henry – a permanent process of cutting spending. So my question to you, Mr Rudd, but also interested in your thoughts, Mr Abbott, what programs will you cut and if you're not going to cut any programs, what taxes will you increase?
Both ran scared.
Rudd said they’d be seeking a surplus over the longer term. But Ken Henry has highlighted, and the Grattan Institute has confirmed, without serious changes to tax policy we’ll be unable build-up a reasonable surplus that will allow government to be prepared for the next recession.
Abbott was in his parallel universe where he lambasts the government with an unceasing drone of, Debt and deficit! Debt and deficit!, but proposes a series of tax cuts to address it.
He’ll axe the carbon price while not rewinding the cuts to income taxes and pension increases that went with it. He’ll also axe the resource rent tax, and the removal of the FBT rort on cars. Oh and he’ll also cut company tax while he’s at it and he won’t touch the GST.
Plus he’ll build roads, apparently 21st century roads like….the Pacific Highway.
So what about cuts to expenditure – well, apparently there’s lots of waste in government according to Abbott. But he’s not too keen on nominating precisely where. Yes there’s the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, but he ignores the fact that this will return revenue so won’t provide a major saving. The school kids bonus and low income superannuation contributions are others, but that’s only a fraction of the savings he needs.
Yes, he’ll have a commission of audit just like the Newman government, but he won’t implement any recommendations which are “contrary to a mandate”. What does this mean I’m left wondering. The commission of audit isn’t much good if it doesn’t uncover cuts that he hasn’t already told the Australian people about. But then if he hasn’t told anyone about the cuts, then he doesn’t really have a mandate does he?
When it came to the issue of climate change both leaders said they wanted to do something about it, but neither wanted to go into detail about how.
Rudd was keen to suggest recent reductions in emissions were due to the $23 carbon price. But somehow he thinks he can help people out with their cost of living by slashing it to $7 without undermining those emission reductions. Also he mentioned he’d like to bring on extra gas supplies to reduce prices, ignoring the fact that LNG plants now set the market price.
Abbott impressed with his knowledge of geography and foreign affairs with the statement:
"But there is no way that other countries are embracing the kind of carbon tax and the kind of Emissions Trading Scheme that Australia has, if anything the trend is all the other way."
In Abbott’s world the following don’t seem to exist: the European Union, President Obama and the US EPA, South Korea, the US states of California, New York, Massachusetts and several other US states, Norway, New Zealand, British Columbia, Quebec and China.
Of course if Rudd and Abbott wanted to be sensible they could raise plenty of revenue through a decent carbon price and reduce pollution, which would help provide reassurance to voters that they didn't need to increase the GST so much.
But maybe I worry too much. According to Rudd and Abbott we're all so wonderful there's nothing much to worry about.
"the Australia we all know and love has been built by you, the Australian people. Built by you, our businesses both big and small, built by you, our seniors, who've worked so hard in the past and built by you, young people out there who are our dynamos of the future. Most importantly, it's built by you, the families of Australia, saving and providing for your kids' future."
And Abbott believes something similar:
"Most of all, I believe in our people. I believe in you. Australians, in Menzies' phrase, are a nation of lifters not leaners. I believe that our best years are ahead of us."
Can someone please pass me the bucket.