A peek into the Coalition plan

Coalition strategist Andrew Robb vowed never to provide the big policy platform to attack that John Hewson did with Fightback! in the 1990s. But the opposition has already flagged great chunks of what it plans to do.

Has Coalition strategist and shadow finance minister Andrew Robb got it wrong a second time? The Morgan Christmas poll had Gillard in the lead and therefore a real chance to win the next election.
At the ADC Hayman Retreat last August Robb explained that in 1993, when he was directing the Liberal election campaign, he made the fatal mistake of being pressured into announcing the 800-page Fightback! plan early. That gave Paul Keating over a year to adopt or decimate, and, in Robb’s view, caused the Liberals to lose the "unloseable election”.

Robb was adamant last August the Coalition will not make that mistake again and as a result would not release the details of its policies well in advance of the election.

At that time Tony Abbott was way ahead in the polls. Now he is behind partly because he does not seem to have detailed policies. Yet at the Hayman Retreat Robb revealed that an incredible amount of work has been undertaken by the Coalition to prepare a set of policies that might even rival Fightback! in detail and comprehensiveness (Coalition on carbon tax: Repeal or resign, August 14).

Robb and environment shadow Greg Hunt indicated a series of areas where the Coalition would change policy. Here are ten of them:

– There will be no carbon tax

– The Coalition would separate out a series of industries where it believes Australia is, or can be, a major global leader. Those industries would include mining, agriculture, education, legal services and medical research. It would do all in its power to foster growth in those areas. For example, it would slash the time required to undertake third stage drug testing, so boosting medial research.

– In the mining sector, apart from abandoning the carbon and mining taxes, an enormous regulation reduction program is planned. Currently, some 8000 pages of submissions need to be made to get LNG plants off the ground. The requirements would be maintained but the paperwork slashed.

– In agriculture, a new plan to harness northern Australian water resources will be prepared. In the case of the Murray, a new examination will be undertaken aiming to use modern technology to lessen the amount of water required to achieve environmental aims.

– In education, there would be a substantial reduction in the regulations for universities and a restoration of most of the visa rules that existed under Howard. Every attempt will made to restore that sector to a major Australian growth area.

– In relations with the states, an entirely new approach is planned. It will revolve around splitting activities between Commonwealth and state. Andrew Robb conceded that past leaders of both parties had been centralists but the new approach would be a federalist one. In the environment area the Commonwealth would undertake the administration of emissions but environmental approvals would be undertaken by the states under clear guidelines set by the Commonwealth. This approach to end duplication would be extended to over a wide area of the Australian landscape.

– As part of the federalist approach, a comprehensive agreement would be reached with as many states as possible. Already there have been extensive consultations with the Queensland government aiming to set out a road map to determine who would do what, where. The Coalition is looking to do similar deals with all other states. By avoiding duplication both the states and the Commonwealth would substantially cut their outlays and improve the services they provide. Those states that do not sign comprehensive power sharing deals were likely to be less prosperous than those that do.

– In defence, the Coalition government will look more closely at ties with India. No comments were made but it was clear that the Coalition understands the deep-seated problems with the Joint Strike Fighter but is not prepared to announce any policies at this point. (However it would seem the Coalition has been reading much of the JSF revelations material that have been published in Business Spectator).

– There is a plan to give state school boards much more power with the ability to reward good teachers. This would be a scheme introduced as part of state cooperation.

– There will be a lot more outsourcing in the Commonwealth.

In addition Shadow Small Business Minister Bruce Billson (Business End of the election, August 3) has flagged that the Rudd-Gillard governments have introduced 18,000 new small business regulations, which would be substantially reduced under a Liberal government.

Coalition leaders have told business people that the Fair Work Act would not be decimated but there would be amendments which would be announced very clearly prior to the election. The Liberals believe there is potential to use the current Fair Work Act much more effectively (Coalition shows sign of softening Fair Work stance, August 14).

The government believes that they will mince the opposition when the Coalition is forced to announce big spending cuts. It is clear that the Coalition believe they are uncovering enormous areas of cost reduction via lesser regulation so services can be improved yet spending slashed. Bring on the election.