A Clarification On Budget Strategy

IN RECENT DAYS, this column has argued — vigorously — that the appropriate way to rectify the Commonwealth budget lies in swingeing cuts to government expenditure rather than the imposition of new or increased taxes; even so, such remarks should not be construed as a withdrawal of support for the Abbott government. They do, however, belie a deep concern with the electoral consequences of the pursuit of what is the wrong option.

I have found it necessary to post this morning what is almost tantamount to a correction: over the past week or so I have been contacted privately, in forums such as the comments section of this site and on Twitter, and elsewhere by people who read this column every day and who have wanted to clarify whether or not I have now “turned” on the government of Tony Abbott.

Let me reassure readers (especially those who share my conservative views) that I have done nothing of the kind; I continue to hold membership of the Liberal Party, continue to support the Abbott government politically, and will continue to hold the ALP to account for its evasion and its smarm over what is little more than a denial complex over the damage it inflicted on this country during its most recent period in office.

The opinions that have appeared on this site in relation to Tuesday’s federal budget reflect analysis and observation of the political ramifications of what appears set to be included in that document rather than simply saying what I think personally, although — as an economic conservative who finds a lot of government expenditure distasteful, to say the least — it would be dishonest to suggest I’m anything other than deeply, deeply disappointed that so much expenditure seems to be in line for quarantine, with the soft option of jacking up taxes to pay for it being a copout. And a sellout.

I have said before and say so again that the Abbott government (despite the litany of unwise exclusions Abbott committed himself to during the election campaign) was elected with a mandate to restore the federal budget to health by cutting spending and eliminating government waste.

It was not elected with a mandate to increase taxes, and whilst anyone prepared to take a dispassionate view of the nature of the problem Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance minister Matthias Cormann must tackle can understand why they are including new/increased taxes in the budget, these are options that are being taken when an awful lot of spending that should be cut is set to remain in place.

It must be emphasised that these judgements are based on what has found its way into the public domain to date: after all, the budget itself won’t be known for a few days yet. But Tony Abbott and his team would not be allowing measures like a “deficit tax” or the slug in fuel excise to remain on the table (and already causing political damage) if they were not destined to become law in the budget.

As an observer and as a commentator, it is obvious to me that persisting with some of these measures is political anathema to the electorate.

The rate of fuel excise, for example, was frozen at its current level by the Howard/Costello government — ironically as part of a political fix to salvage that government’s election prospects — and no matter how sound the case for raising or re-indexing it, or how much cash doing so might yield, the symbolism of such a move will resonate with voters well beyond the actual impost of another cent or two on every litre of petrol.

A Liberal government junking a fix that was fashioned to restore faith with a Liberal base invites blame for doing so to be directed at itself — no matter the size of the latest black hole left by Labor in the country’s finances.

A “deficit tax” is sheer political folly: even restricted to higher income earners as it now appears it will be (which, admittedly, is some improvement on original plans to hit middle income earners too) this measure flies in the face of proven orthodox conservative management principles that by cutting tax rates for upper income earners, a government will collect more revenue from them as the incentive to work harder and earn more sees an increased stipend directed to Treasury coffers in the form of additional tax payments.

(Which is also one of the reasons the “hit the rich” ignoramuses on the Left are so misguided to oppose certain tax cuts for the “rich,” surrendering as such a position does the prospect of collecting additional revenue to redistribute and buy off its own preferred constituencies lower in the food chain. But I digress).

There are a lot of people — many of them earning the average wage or less — who are going to be deeply, and bitterly, disappointed if Tuesday’s budget confirms what has seemed obvious for some time now: namely, that when it comes to slashing spending, the Abbott government is going to at least partially squib it by hiking its tax take instead.

Obviously, Hockey and Cormann are set to wield the axe on one hand at the same time as increasing their take with the other. The political problem will stem from the fact that public appearances suggest too much reliance on the latter and not enough on the former.

And there is a lot — an awful lot — of Labor spending that seems to be in line to escape the guillotine.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a case in point: at $22 billion per year once it’s fully operational it’s an expensive scheme on any analysis, and was (in part) a fiscal trap set for the Liberal Party that Julia Gillard explicitly stated she would not pursue unless the Liberal Party supported it; it’s not funded, it was never properly explained or sold beyond its raw hot button appeal as “something for the sick,” and with just 130,000 people set to benefit from that $22 billion in annual outlays — $70,000 per annum per beneficiary — it in no way represents value for money.

I have made similar observations in this column in relation to the so-called Gonski reforms, which — despite their lofty rhetoric about adequately resourcing all schools equally — come with a fat bag of cash that is not tied in any way to the delivery of improvements in educational outcomes, and I stand by my assessment that the money will simply end up funding huge industry-wide pay rises for teachers that many individuals neither merit nor deserve. Meanwhile, illiterate and innumerate kids will continue to be churned out of the system in virtually unchanged numbers.

These are merely the most obvious targets to take aim at. There are plenty of others.

Clearly, I have no desire whatsoever to see the return of the Labor Party to office at any time soon (or at all, in fact) and it should be fairly obvious, despite my criticisms of what looks certain to be in the budget on Tuesday night, that my support for the Liberal Party remains unchanged.

But clear and sober analysis of the likely impact of these measures politically points to electoral defeat for Abbott and his government after a single term in office, and the reason — quite simply — derives from the basic premise I have been thumping for the past fortnight.

The Abbott government was elected, in part, to fix the sorry state of the budget by hefty cuts to government spending and by eliminating wastage from the federal budget. It does not have a mandate for tax rises. And the nature of the additional tax imposts seem almost tailored to antagonise the very supporters on whom the government’s survival depends, whether by slugging them harder, dashing their expectations, or signalling that when it comes to explicit election pledges it is no more dependable than the pilloried Gillard.

Even at five minutes to midnight, it’s not too late to pull back.

And should all of this cost the Liberals government in 2016, the greatest injury would not be to the Liberal Party but to the national interest: just as the campaign by unions against the Howard government’s WorkChoices legislation has made it virtually impossible now for governments to address the critical issue of workplace flexibility, a Labor win in 2016 would pretty much spell the end of any moral imprimatur for governments to tackle the very real and ballooning problem with the way government operates, borrows and spends money.

The only people to benefit from Labor falling over the line on the back of preferences from the millions of people whose votes it couldn’t even win outright in the first place would be the puppets who got their arses into parliamentary seats and their masters in the union movement who control them.

Profligate spending, spiralling foreign borrowings and rocketing debt would recommence apace. Which is why — should the worst of political consequences follow Abbott and Hockey all the way to polling day — the stakes on Tuesday night are so high, and why the ultimate victim of their budget could be the national interest it is being explicitly designed to protect.



Even Scaled Down, A “Deficit Tax” Is Bad; Fuel Tax Is Worse

IT NOW SEEMS CERTAIN the Abbott government will include a pared-back version of its “deficit tax” in next week’s budget; this column remains trenchant in its opposition to a silly idea that will probably cause more harm than any good it renders to budget outcomes. Even so, rumours today that fuel excise is set to be increased are incendiary; what a “deficit tax” fails to complete in terms of Abbott’s re-election prospects, a fuel excise increase will finish.

I’m going to be out in meetings for most of the day today and thus away from my desk, but I wanted to post briefly on the issue that we’ve spent so much time in the past ten days talking about: namely, the half-baked strategy of including a “deficit tax” in next week’s federal budget, and the potentially terminal effect it may have on the Abbott government’s re-election prospects.

Quite aside from any considerations of a flagrant breach of election pledges not to introduce new taxes, this is a dumb idea.

The notion that every Australian must share in the task of repaying the profligate waste of six years of Labor government is sound; after all, the largesse thrown about like confetti by Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd has impacted most people, and whilst much of it should never have been spent in the first place it is a fair position for Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey to take that the “pain” involved in the repair job should be spread around.

Even so, what was a dog with fleas yesterday is still a dog with fleas today — I’d go so far as to liken the affliction to rabies rather than fleas — and despite the best urgings of Coalition MPs (including some in Cabinet), Liberal party members across the country and a gaggle of conservative commentators (including myself) it is now inevitable that a “deficit tax” will be a feature of Hockey’s first budget next week.

The problem the “hit the rich” brigade fails to comprehend — nay, refuses to comprehend — is that without high income earners and wealth creation, there would be no largesse to shovel around the place at all; it is only even possible for governments to throw taxpayers’ money around, hand over fist, because some people in this country pay far more than others do.

It’s called — lovely term — a progressive taxation system, which ensures the more you earn, the more you pay; conversely, the closer to diddlysquat you earn (or receive in handouts) the nearer to nothing your tax obligations become.

In other words, and this is anathema to the “hit the rich” lobby, the “rich” already pay a fair share.

This new version of the “deficit tax” now seems certain to apply to incomes above $150,000 per annum: it at least now kicks in at a level high enough to avoid hitting middle income families twice — once as their family tax benefits are slashed and again in this silly grab from the wrong place for more revenue to fatten the bottom line of the budget.

Even so, it will still raise — at most — about $600 million per year, and that’s a hell of a lot less of a return on the degree of political opprobrium the measure will generate just for that.

This mentality of “hitting the rich” is stupid because even at the impost of an additional cent in every dollar above a $150,000 threshold it is a destroyer of the incentive to work harder, earn more, generate additional wealth (and pay more tax as a natural consequence).

It seems to have been forgotten that the “rich” have come through six years of Labor government having already copped a fair whack from this outlook, with “rich” people having already been frozen out of tax breaks, had thresholds lowered on them to cut them out of various government programmes, new means tests imposed on them, and so on.

In relative terms, this group has already been slugged in the name of “fairness” and the budget bottom line: which is why, despite the headline number of one cent in the dollar above a $150,000 annual threshold, the “deficit tax” is still likely to have a disproportionate impact and is unlikely to even generate the forecast revenue to add to the bottom line at all.

This column remains resolutely opposed to the “deficit tax” and reiterates the view that should the Coalition be ejected from office at the election due in 2016, it is this measure that will in large part be responsible for it.

Readers who’ve just joined us can review the conversation over the “deficit tax” here, which also contains links to other articles on the subject.

I admit there are no ideal scenarios in dealing with a debt position that will reach $670 billion in a few short years if unaddressed, and which did not exist at all when last the Liberal Party handed the keys to the ministerial suite over to Labor just over six years ago.

But silly ideas that break faith with the government’s own core constituency — let alone represent wilful, outright and unjustifiable violations of election pledges — should be filed in the WPB where they belong.

Speaking of that, there are reports this morning that the next cab off the rank for Cabinet to consider is a jacking up of the excise rate on fuel, currently frozen at 38.1 cents per litre.

Representative as it is of another “initiative” that was not mentioned before the election, this is yet another breach of faith with the electorate: and yet again, with current excise arrangements the product of a compact with voters — this time as a solution delivered by the Howard government — would be yet another betrayal of the Coalition base.

This however, runs deeper.

Far from simply applying to the “rich,” such a move would impact every motorist in the country; it would also add to freight transport costs, in turn generating retail price inflation as the cost increase is passed on to consumers through everything they buy at a supermarket, homewares outlet, or clothing retailer.

It begs the question of the role of the consumer watchdog — the ACCC — and either of its lack of teeth in policing prices or its disinclination to do so; with the price of oil still 30% below its pre-GFC peak and the dollar still near parity with its US counterpart, petrol prices at the pump are now higher in Australia than they have ever been, and petrol price increases are a burden Australian consumers are already struggling to cope with.

Particularly those on lower and middle income levels.

It doesn’t suit the government’s agenda to send the price police out to stop fuel companies gouging Australian motorists, with a fair price for petrol probably about 25 cents per litre less than it is currently being sold for: whilst it wouldn’t reduce the excise collected to enforce this, it wouldn’t yield any additional tax dollars either.

But even a modest rise in fuel excise is certain to cost the Coalition votes in droves, and anyone who doubts this should remember that whilst excise was frozen by Howard and his Treasurer Peter Costello in 2001, it was the reduction in the impost by 1.5 cents per litre that actually salved what at the time was a suppurating political wound.

It is also a matter of record that the 1.5 cent reduction was gone almost as soon as it was delivered, as fuel retailers gobbled up an easy margin increase that had been put in front of them.

Yet the fact enough consumers were able to be bought off so cheaply (in terms of public perception, not the actual cost to government coffers) neatly illustrates how fraught tinkering with this most basic price distortion mechanism really is.

If Abbott and Hockey go down this path, the electoral consequences will be dire: and by dire, I mean that whatever damage a “deficit tax” does to the government’s re-election prospects the fuel excise will finish once and for all.

Abbott and Hockey are flirting with electoral defeat, and no amount of (justified) rhetoric about Labor incompetence — or juicy headlines of union corruption and criminal misconduct screeched by a long-overdue Royal Commission — will dispel this fact.

Rather than embarking on ill-advised tax grabs for which it has no mandate, the government would be better served doing what it was elected to do: finding the cojones to slash far deeper into the spending programs that should never have been introduced by Labor in the first place.

Paring back the dual obscenities of the NDIS and the so-called Gonski reforms would be a good place to start.



Newspoll Confirms Coalition Collapse Over “Deficit Tax”

FURTHER EVIDENCE that a “deficit tax” is responsible for a disastrous slide in Coalition support has emerged, this time from the highly respected Newspoll survey published in today’s issue of The Australian; with the collapse of the Coalition’s polling numbers now reflected in every opinion poll taken over the past week, the reality that a “deficit tax” could well cost it government must be confronted, urgently, ahead of next Tuesday’s federal budget.

At some point — among those who really make decisions over issues that become political reality — the penny must drop; of the raft of budget items that have been floated in full view of the public over the past few months there is only one that has had real electoral teeth, and the notion of a “deficit tax” has seen those teeth sink remarkably deep into the Coalition’s electoral stocks in an absurdly short period of time.

I’m perfectly prepared to concede, as a Liberal, that the Abbott government — to date — has never been wildly popular.

But unpopularity, as John Howard showed, is no bar to either governing competently nor to being re-elected. Hypocrisy and, increasingly, deception on the hustings are another matter altogether, and the man who promised “tax cuts without new taxes” as opposition leader seems set, as Prime Minister, to be held to account.

On Sunday, we looked at a Galaxy poll showing Labor leading the government by a 52-48 margin after preferences; this was to a degree validated yesterday by ReachTel findings that suggested the extent of the ALP lead was more in the order of 54-46. Last night, Morgan published findings that show Labor ahead by 55-45 on the two-party measure.

And now, in what should worry Liberal Party insiders the most, we see perhaps the most credible survey of the lot — Newspoll — landing squarely in the middle of the pack, showing Labor ahead by a 53-47 margin after preferences.

Let’s look at Newspoll’s numbers, and then I want to make some comments: not just on Newspoll, but on the overall picture painted by four major polls in five days and why I am being so insistent that a “deficit tax” is the root cause of a problem the Coalition still has time before the budget to deal with, but deal with it it must.

It’s worth noting that Newspoll’s last survey was published four weeks ago, recording a Coalition lead of 51-49 over Labor. Not that it matters: had there been a Newspoll over Easter I would have expected it to be virtually unchanged from the result in early April.

Now, Newspoll finds primary vote support for the Coalition at 38% (-5%); it finds the ALP on 34% (unch), the Communist Party Greens sitting on 14% (+3%), with “Others” — including the Palmer United Party, which some polling operators are itemising separately now — at 14% (+2%).

The 53-47 lead this scores off to the ALP represents a swing of 4% against the Coalition since the previous Newspoll a month ago, and 6.5% since last year’s election.

To illustrate the potency of such a movement if replicated at an election, these numbers would see Labor restored to government, winning 84 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives on a uniform swing — a gain of 29 seats, although it has to be said that with the swing running at 4% its actual gain would in all probability be several seats more than that.

The hit on Coalition support runs throughout Newspoll’s findings, which see satisfaction with Prime Minister Tony Abbott fall to 35% (-5%) with disapproval rising a whopping 9% to 56%; satisfaction with opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, meanwhile, rises four points to 35%, with disapproval of his performance dropping by just a single point to 41%.

But on the “preferred Prime Minister” question, Shorten wipes out most of Abbott’s lead in these findings, trailing the Prime Minister by just two points, 38-40 (Abbott’s lead in the last Newspoll was a more comfortable 41-33 margin).

As I said yesterday, we already know the proposed $6 co-payment on GP visits otherwise bulk billed is not responsible for the slide in the Coalition’s opinion poll stocks.

The reason we know this is that it failed to dint the government’s numbers when it was first floated back in January, and whilst other polling that has asked whether respondents approve of three issues (the co-payment, the plan to raise the pensionable age to 70 by 2035, and the “deficit tax”) show it to be unpopular, there is no evidence that that unpopularity has translated into lost votes for the government.

I would similarly suggest lifting the pensionable age to 70 won’t cost Abbott many votes either: it doesn’t apply to anyone for another 20 years, and anyone currently aged 50 or over won’t be affected at all.

That leaves the “deficit tax:” and as I argued yesterday, the day before and a week ago, the case against what is the stupidest initiative to emerge to date from the Abbott government’s kite flyers is overwhelming, and to my mind almost irrefutable.

It is interesting to note that like Galaxy yesterday, Newspoll finds no increase in primary vote support for the Labor Party. This is unsurprising; with the exception of rusted-on Labor adherents I am yet to speak to anyone who either denies the ALP’s responsibility for putting the federal budget in the disgraceful shape in which Abbott and Co find it, or who exonerates Labor over that responsibility.

Yet as I also noted in relation to Galaxy’s findings, Labor doesn’t need a primary vote with a “4” in front of it to win an election: if there are adequate votes available that flow to it when preferences are distributed, that’s all it needs. And on Newspoll’s figures — unlike at the time of the last election — it now seems that there is.

The other thing that should come as no surprise to anyone — even to ALP hardheads — is that Shorten remains no more popular than Abbott, and only marginally better off when the “net approval” measure is used. Anyone who believes Shorten is held in any kind of warm regard by the electorate is mistaken, although unlike Abbott, his problem derives from the sheer inconsistency of his approach to his “leadership.”

On the one hand, he rants about tax cuts for millionaires, but opposes a deficit levy. He claims to be tough on union corruption but is doing everything he can to obstruct the Royal Commission charged with weeding it out. He claims to be concerned on jobs, but to date has exhibited no regard or concern for anyone other than union members facing the loss of their jobs or who have already lost them. He claims to be all about reforming the ALP, but refuses to tackle the one thing — the 50% union vote at ALP conferences — that can ever achieve meaningful reform of his party.

On and on it goes. Shorten, simply stated, is shaping up to be exactly the political liability this column foreshadowed immediately he was elected to his position.

But back to the implications of this Newspoll, and by extension to the rest of the polling seen in the past few days.

Even as the Coalition’s fortunes have waxed and waned since last year’s election, the movement has been scattered; a Newspoll might appear showing the Coalition regaining a lead just as an Essential finding might show it slipping behind the ALP. That kind of thing.

And the fact this budget would contain swingeing cuts to government expenditure has been known for months, not days or weeks: in fact, it’s probably been known for years, given the performance of the ALP in the office and the sustained series of large budget deficits chalked up by Wayne Swan over virtually the entire period of Labor government.

This is the first time we have seen a massive move against the Coalition in opinion polling, and the first time it has been uniform across multiple polling products that are usually wildly divergent.

Something has caused this; and if anyone can mount a sensible, reasonable and logical case as to why anything other than the “deficit tax” is the culprit, I’d love to hear it.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think these polls are recording pre-budget flutter and I don’t think this is a “classic” case of the storm before the calm that will break out when the hard sell of the budget is embarked upon.

Rather, I not only think they are deadly accurate, but I believe that if the “deficit tax” is among the measures announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey next week the Coalition’s numbers will deteriorate further, and perhaps to a point beyond retrieval.

Should that happen, all bets about the “standard second term all governments get” would have to be regarded as off.

Yes, some of the anti-Coalition intent showing up in these kinds of numbers will drift back to the government; the question is whether enough of it will, and especially after preferences. The Howard government was re-elected in 1998 by the skin of its teeth on preferences. But the key difference was that it took its big vote-losing policy at the time — the GST — to an election.

This “deficit tax” wasn’t heard of publicly even a fortnight ago, let alone last September. Howard might have escaped in 1998, but if the “deficit tax” is announced on Tuesday night, it’s doubtful as to whether Abbott will.


Rethink A “Deficit Tax?” Just Shoot This Dog With Fleas

THE AUSTRALIAN is reporting that — stung by a backlash from ministers, senior MPs, the media and the public — the Abbott government is looking to revise the controversial proposal for a so-called “deficit tax” in next week’s budget, restricting it to those on incomes above $180,000 per year; whilst this is better than nothing, it fails to answer the central problem that a “deficit tax” is politically lethal. It is a dog with fleas, and it must be put down.

It’s not often I find myself in outright opposition to my party, and when I do it is with good reason; we have talked in this column at length in the past few days about the political toxicity (and sheer stupidity) of imposing a “deficit tax” in next week’s budget, and we will continue to do so until the whole dumb idea has been dispensed with altogether.

I’m heartened to see a report in The Australian this morning that suggests the Abbott cabinet is contemplating doing precisely that; it seems various scenarios are being canvassed to restrict the reach of such an impost to incomes at a selection of levels at and above $100,000 per annum, and whilst this is a start it simply isn’t good enough.

There is ample, and growing, evidence that it’s this measure that has galvanised opposition to what was always going to be a horrific 2014 budget; too many Liberal MPs are briefing the press (on condition, of course, of anonymity) and too many independent indicators are emerging that the idea is now eating dangerously into the Coalition’s electoral support.

Yesterday, we covered a Galaxy poll in the Murdoch press that found the Coalition trailing Labor by a 48-52 margin; since then, ReachTel has published findings suggesting the gap sits at 46-54.

None of this comes as any surprise, and the ReachTel findings provide at least some validation of the Galaxy result: it dilutes my obsessive qualifiers urging caution over a single poll, and (I’m guessing) the trend is likely to find further reinforcement if Newspoll posts late tonight as we might expect.

I’m not going to revisit the arguments I presented yesterday and beyond; readers can peruse those articles if they choose to.

But for all of the reasons we have discussed (and then some) it doesn’t matter which way you cut it: a “deficit tax” might as well be an unambiguous euphemism for “electoral suicide.” My instinct that this policy will have a direct causal link with the defeat of the government has been met with nothing in the past 72 hours to suggest it is even remotely misjudged.

“Tax cuts without new taxes,” The Australian reminds us was the Prime Minister’s pledge.

We have fleshed out the basis on which the Abbott government has a clear mandate to restore the federal budget with swingeing cuts to profligate expenditure. We have covered off on why the $6 co-payment for GP consultations is a different kettle of fish again, and I should point out that its introduction to public discussions during the Griffith by-election campaign did nothing to dent either the local Liberal campaign or the poll-measured support of the Coalition federally.

A deficit tax — either in the form initially leaked to the media, or reshaped by any of the fixes apparently under consideration — fits nowhere among these considerations.

Some thought should be given, by Coalition figures, to the ramifications of any election loss over this issue.

To lose office after a single term of office would expose this country to the dire consequences of a return to the governance of the Left; to do so would send Labor a green light (no pun intended) to resume — and, indeed, accelerate — its destructive pattern of unrestrained foreign borrowing and expenditure.

If the Coalition were to lose office because of some petulant adherence to a “deficit tax,” it would also surrender the imprimatur to revisit any kind of austerity program when it is inevitably returned to office down the track to deal with what would by then amount to a far, far greater problem.

And this, in turn, would leave Australia wholly exposed to the full magnitude of the budget crisis Labor resolutely maintains doesn’t even exist: with no corrective measures, this country’s debt will spiral toward 50% of GDP within ten years, and that’s before any additional damage a restored Labor government might inflict; we may not be a Euro-style economic basket case now, but once debt levels are running at 50% of GDP and higher, Australia will be moving up through the ranks of the very European train wrecks Labor brazenly claims its policies could never lead to.

I’ve made the observation before that whatever is cut next week, someone will hurt; Treasurer Joe Hockey is right to spread the pain around but a “deficit tax” is sheer political lunacy — and its true cost will be far higher than the $5bn it might raise over five years, even after its application has been limited to people earning more than $180,000 per annum.

It’s the signal this sends to the electorate that is the problem. Once it’s been sent — signed, sealed, and delivered on budget night — it cannot be retracted.

There is still ample time to rethink such a politically catastrophic measure; today’s news is that a rethink is indeed underway. It should continue.

And there is still ample fat from which to cut, in the form of Labor Party expenditure programs that should never have been written into law; the rethink being conducted over the “deficit tax” should include what additional spending cuts can and indeed will be made to make any imperative for such an impost redundant.

None of this changes the basic underlying reality that a “deficit tax,” in the context of current discussions ahead of the 2014 budget, is likely to prove deadly in the political sense if pursued.

To put it bluntly, it is a dog with fleas. Abbott would be well-advised to take it out the back of the House and shoot it.