Why we need an early election

Labor has achieved a lot given its minority status, but with the next round of reforms looking unfundable and parliament reduced to mud slinging, it's high time for a new government.

Two rumours have been aired in the past week that one can only hope are true – that the mid year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO) will be released earlier than usual, and that a snap election will be held in March of next year.

Both these decisions are made by the government, and the ring of truth to the rumours stems from the fact that without these decisions being taken, Labor is likely finished.

An early MYEFO will minimise the apparent tax revenue haemorrhaging as commodity prices soften, and an early election will capitalise on any momentum Labor picks up from its 'gender war' strategy that is focusing maximum attention on Tony Abbott's unpopularity with chicks (sorry, couldn't resist).

In a week or two we will get some indication of how Labor's new strategy is playing out with voters – will it add to the ALP's moderately successful attempt to conflate Abbott's views with those of the rampaging and defiant Alan Jones, or backfire if women think Labor's female MPs are dancing to a cynical strategy concocted by mostly male Labor strategists?

Julia Gillard's comments about Abbott's 'misogyny' on Tuesday won her considerable praise from commentators on both the left and right of politics around the world – though, I think it's fair to say, mostly opprobrium in Australia – but there is no necessary correlation with how local voters will interpret the week's extraordinary bile-fest in the House of Reps.

However, if there is an uptick in Labor's polling, the March election will start to firm as a prospect.

And so it should. The 43rd parliament has accomplished some major reforms, despite naysayers arguing early on that it would be paralysed. For better or worse, Labor has pushed through something resembling its policy wishes on pricing carbon, and set in a motion a once-in-a-century rebuilding of our communications network by ploughing ahead with the NBN.

To a Labor government expected to last but a few weeks, both are considerable political achievements – and, of course, they are augmented with literally hundreds of smaller pieces of legislation.

But Labor's next wave of big ideas – the national disability insurance scheme ($5 to $8 billion a year), beginning the Gonski education reforms (starting in 2014 and rising in $1 billion increments to eventually be worth around $6.5 a year), public dental care reform ($4 billion over six years) and the expensive Malaysia/Nauru asylum seeker process plans ($3 billion over four years) – look unfundable from the shrinking commonwealth tax base.

As I have noted before, there is no magic that will allow the coalition to produce a policy platform for the next election that does not also promise a lot more than expected tax revenue can deliver. The magic so far seems to consist of swingeing cuts to public services, hoping voters won't notice.

But voters always notice. They clamour for both lower taxes and better services. And both sides will overstate what is achievable going into the election.

Which is why we should get the damn thing over with. Liberal or Labor, what does it matter? Australia needs a new dawn, after a fresh election, where the new government can declare "things aren't what we thought before the election!"

Whether it's a Liberal or Labor PM in the lodge, it will be early in the next term of government that real governing will resume – that's when the real belt-tightening will begin. Until then we're just treading water, and – if it's not stretching the metaphor too far – slinging mud.


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