AFTER Bill Shorten’s much-hyped “year of ideas” that yielded only promises of new and/or increased tax slugs, Labor’s “leader” is to make attack his best defence; on track for an electoral belting after two years offering less leadership than a true leader’s bootlace, Shorten will embark on a field trip across Australia to try to bamboozle voters with a barrage of bullshit. Sensible folk have not embraced Shorten. This new charade will not alter that.
I have been perusing the morning’s news and noticed a number of reports about a curious new enterprise being attributed to opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, and wanted to make some comment on what can only be described as the desperate last stand of a man — and his party — that exudes all the characteristics of a hunted and beaten quarry.
The Murdoch press is reporting that Shorten will today commence a national three-week tour — see here and here — with the apparent objective of whipping up as much fear and hysteria as he can muster around a series of vapid scare campaigns that have failed to bite so far, and will probably fail again now.
Rumoured to have been slated for replacement by the ruthless ALP/union machine until the running saga of Federal Police investigations into Special Minister of State Mal Brough resurfaced late last year, it’s fairly obvious that having failed to produce any new (or, indeed, exciting) policy from a “year of ideas,” the desperate Shorten is now reduced to firing the last shot in his locker: a hysterical (and baseless) attempt to intimidate voters into deserting the Turnbull government on the strength of wild fairy stories.
Let’s be blunt: Labor (and Shorten) start 2016 in a position from which electoral defeat is not only a virtual certainty — especially if Malcolm Turnbull hurries up and gets…himself…to Yarralumla to announce an election date quickly — but from which losing significant ground based on the 2013 landslide is a now very real prospect; with the PM Labor and Shorten demonised, crucified, and drove from office now gone, Labor’s electoral fortunes dissolved the day Tony Abbott vacated the Prime Ministerial suite.
Just as it is in the Liberal Party’s best interests for Shorten to remain right where he is (and, conversely, in Labor’s to get rid of him, pronto) it was in Labor’s very best interests for Abbott to lead the government to another election. There are many in the ALP who now rue the vicious crusade they ran against the former Liberal leader.
Simply stated, Labor’s only genuine path to victory depended on Tony Abbott (and Peta Credlin) continuing to preside over the mess the Abbott government became.
Labor’s bright, brilliant new ideas of 2015 weren’t that bright, they weren’t that new, and in any case there weren’t that many of them at all.
Parties of the Centre-Left worldwide have been railing against multinationals who “do not pay their fair share” over the past few years; most recently, this mantra formed a substantial portion of British Labour’s pitch in May last year, which ended in disaster.
No party and no government in any Western democratic country has “solved” the problem of “multinational tax evasion,” whereby these companies will supposedly pay “a fair share” of tax on income generated locally.
And why? Because the finer points of this populist nonsense dictates that any significant tax take would be far outweighed by the loss of jobs as the miscreant companies scale back (or close) local operations, with knock-on effects of declining government revenues, increased welfare spending, and an international reputation as a place to do business that would suffer badly.
Labor will campaign on this rubbish, but if ever elected will do little or nothing to realise it.
Beyond that, and with one exception, Labor’s “new” ideas are nothing more than a grab bag of taxes: not one carbon tax, but two; a rise in cigarette taxes that will hurt its own supporters more than anyone, and which really beggars belief; a ridiculous 50% renewable energy target that, if realised, would cause utility bills for householders and businesses to rocket to the point they could cause not just a recession but a permanent economic slump, as inefficient, expensive and subsidy-dependent renewables price ordinary people out of electricity and gas markets; Labor has signalled it may drastically hike the Medicare levy “to pay for health services” which not only fails to address issues of wastage and inefficiency in health service delivery, but would have to lift the levy to somewhere approaching 10% to redress the budget deficit; and it wants to tax self-funded retirees (on the basis they’re “rich”) to the point many will need to start drawing a pension — compounding the government’s fraught financial position even further.
The exception to all of these taxes I’ve alluded to (and more the ALP has up its sleeve besides) was the nugget Shorten let slip soon after becoming Labor “leader,” which he has not since dared utter again: the abolition of the Private Health Insurance Rebate, which would cause public hospitals to be completely overrun, and effecting the collapse of healthcare in Australia.
For a “year of ideas,” Shorten’s template is contemptible, to say the least.
But now he wants to run around the country, using fear as the motive to get people to vote for him; ask any good manager of people what the worst “motivator” for use on staff is, and all of them will nominate fear: if you have to frighten your staff to get them to do something, you’re not a “manager” at all. It’s the same with politics (and yes, I know fear campaigns have worked before…)
Yet Shorten wants to ram home his story that Turnbull, if re-elected, will put a “15% GST on everything,” a tale as deliberately misleading as it is untrue: any GST change would see the rate increased by five percentage points, and would not “add 15% to everything;” to the extent the GST base might be broadened Turnbull hasn’t announced anything, and were he to make such a change after an election without spelling it out beforehand, the Coalition in 2019 would be likely to pay the same price as the Howard government did in 2007 over WorkChoices.
So hellbent on shoving his GST story down the throats of voters is Shorten that he last week publicly abused one of Labor’s state leaders — NSW’s Luke Foley — because the latter dared to suggest he might be prepared to support a GST rise; to date, South Australian (Labor) Premier Jay Weatherill has also claimed GST reform is common sense, and offers a sustainable path to repairing government finances, whilst Victorian (Labor) Premier Daniel Andrews (in a rare outburst of common sense) is on record as saying he would support such a position if consensus among the other states emerged despite not personally favouring it.
And Shorten will have no mention made of the other things, aside from health and education funding, a GST increase would be guaranteed to pay for: income tax cuts and increases to pensions and other relief for the low-paid. These trade-offs, for putting government revenue onto a more sustainable footing by switching the focus of taxation away from income and onto expenditure, destroy Shorten’s case, so the fact he is shouting down dissent in his own ranks and insisting any increase would be bigger than it is is hardly a surprise.
Speaking of WorkChoices, penalty rates are the other agenda item Shorten has elected to “talk about” on his barnstorming cross-country stampede; now heading into the fourth consecutive election campaign at which Labor has chosen to fight on the spectre of WorkChoices, it’s debatable as to whether this tired old ruse frightens anyone at all any more.
Yes, WorkChoices won for Labor in 2007. Since then, its electoral scorecard is a technical loss (2010) and a landslide defeat in 2013. Significantly, the Coalition in office has made no attempt to reintroduce WorkChoices — a fact any intelligent voter will comprehend — but more to the point, it knows it must be upfront before an election about any industrial changes it makes.
Forgetting the self-interested babble of the unions and the ALP: restoring some of the labour market flexibility of the WorkChoices reforms is economically critical; for now, the debate is centred only on the size of penalty rates being paid to workers in retail and hospitality jobs on Sundays, and even then, on simply bringing them into line with Saturday penalty rates. It is difficult to see what Shorten might convince people of by going on a nationwide tour selling snake oil. But predictions of the sky falling in are likely to be given short shrift.
In one sense, you have to feel a little sorry for Shorten.
After all, he spent so much time and effort misrepresenting what the Abbott government tried to do (a venture, just to be clear, that received an enormous amount of assistance from the Abbott government itself on account of its inability to articulate or sell anything) and built what many believed was an unassailable election-winning position, only to see it disappear when the Liberals dispatched Abbott, as the Royal Commission into the unions began to parade acres of filthy laundry before the eyes of the watching electorate, and on account of his own severe limitations and (many) personal inadequacies as a “leader.”
Some might even think he’s been robbed of what he believes is his destiny: after all, it’s common knowledge at both the ALP and the unions that Shorten thinks he’s destined to be Prime Minister of this country.
The reality is more mundane.
No more than a discredited and narcissistic hack, the image Shorten has conveyed (directly and indirectly) to voters is that he is an opportunist who will say or do literally anything to acquire power and retain it. All politicians are ambitious, but the balder the ambition, the more off-putting it is. Kevin Rudd would have the franchise on that point.
But whichever way you cut it, Shorten and his “destiny” — and his moribund “leadership” — are unlikely to be saved by the latest half-arsed stunt he’s spent his summer break dreaming up.
Even when Labor was riding high in opinion polls with Abbott as Prime Minister, Shorten’s personal appeal — as a “leader” and as a potential Prime Minister — was less than impressive, to say the least. And whilst he may have led Abbott some of the time on the “preferred PM” measure, it was never by all that much.
Nobody with a brain has warmed to Shorten on the strength of his “ideas,” his big plans to tax hell out of everyone earning more than the average wage, or the puerile soundbites he delivers with painfully frequency that don’t even sound as if he believes what he is saying, let alone anyone who might be listening.
To date, his efforts on the GST and on penalty rates have failed to make any headway against an ascendant new Prime Minister, and even the Brough scandal and more recent incidents involving Coalition frontbenchers Peter Dutton and Jamie Briggs appear bereft of votes for Labor if early indications prove reliable.
But it matters not to Shorten, for the one (and perhaps only) thing he is arrogantly convinced of is his “destiny” to be Prime Minister; ideas and arguments and debate — and plenty of poor publicity emanating from his own side of the political fence — have only shifted that objective further and further from his grasp.
The proper way of going about it hasn’t worked and now, quite unapologetically, Shorten is going to try to bamboozle voters with a barrage of bullshit to force them to his will.
People haven’t embraced Shorten to this point, and armed with nothing more than a scare to sell, they won’t embrace him now.