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Guest Notes

Media notes

27 August 2016

9:00 AM

27 August 2016

9:00 AM

Tackling the elephant

Let’s cut to the chase; Australian political leadership must find the stomach to deal with the core issue facing this country. No more excuses.Since the world’s longest election, we’ve been obsessed with secondary and peripheral topics of gender equality, free speech, juvenile detention and banking scrutiny. Of course our politicians are far more adept and comfortable handling the peripheral, because the repercussions are not as severe… and the subject only rankles with a minority.

But the time has come to get serious. The ugly issue we need to tackle, the one no cross-bencher is asked to address, the elephant-sized problem impacting on our capability to deal with almost every other peripheral policy, is debt and deficit. Last week’s continuance of our Triple A credit rating, is in effect, a shocking furphy. Our bottom line stinks and those with real economic knowledge know it. ‘A full blown economic crisis or strong leadership are the only solutions,’ writes Judith Sloane this week. The Australian newspaper’s economic columnist echoes those endless warnings which have been coming from the Chairman of Tony Abbott’s National Commission of Audit, Tony Shepherd. His ‘cradle to grave cuts’ solution has fallen on deaf ears. Only former Treasurer Joe Hockey heeded the advice, ratcheting up a call for the ‘age of entitlement’ to end. It was an accurate slogan, but not matched by any effective marketing or salesmanship. Even the wily ‘ol accountant, Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, has used a simple but telling measurement to make the penny drop. ‘We are paying a billion dollars a month in interest on our debt,’ he’s warned us in recent years.

Yes, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years took us down the slippery path to debt and disaster and, yes, the Government can make hay reminding Australians about that fact. But it’s become so common-knowledge, the point is now largely meaningless and the country is waiting to hear from leaders who have practical solutions. Maybe if the pollies themselves showed real leadership by hacking into their own entitlements and superannuation arrangements, the public would buy-in with a little more enthusiasm.

That’s where the Prime Minister could show a point of difference, a real sincerity in showing us the way to spending maturity and sacrifice. Of course the fact that the major parties called a speaking truce on this issue last year, doesn’t suggest he has the ticker for this either.The truth is, if we continue to ignore the parlous state of our balance sheet, massive Government spending and a lack of new revenue options, including the frequent alerts from the shrewd economic analysts, Australia could become a terrible basket-case. Ignorance could become our greatest modern-day mistake.

With all that in mind, it’s now time for the creative and hard-nosed Treasurer to step up to the plate. Scott Morrison needs to walk into the Prime Minister’s office and convince his boss that this Government needs to cut to the chase. They need to launch a full onslaught for budget restraint, not just against the Opposition, but to those feral cross-benchers, ready to deflate the Government’s spending cut balloon. They too need to take personal responsibility for our grave national predicament.

Morrison should call an immediate National Summit on Solving Our National Debt, forcing every politician with their hands out for more, and every economic stakeholder who thinks they know better, to get some skin in the game. Yes it has overtures of the egomaniac Prime Minister Kevin Rudd when he first came to power, but not all dumb ideas, are entirely dumb, if you dissect them cleverly.

Summits deliver instant national focus while putting pressure on those involved to state their case. Instead of coming to power on the hot wind of another Royal Commission, another round of life-saving medical funding or the promise of even more generous welfare provision, let’s force them all to stand and place on record, what their solutions are, to finding the money, to pay for their smart ideas.

Imagine how mortal they’d all become. But it would focus the nation’s attention, once and for all on the importance and necessity of finding new revenue streams, and the courage to accept cuts in spending. We might also be able to change the culture of ‘take’, and insert a more measured culture, which equates ‘giving’ to ‘taking’ instead.

Quite simply, our Prime Minister does not have the intestinal fortitude for such a political wedge. But Scott Morrison does. And I throw out the challenge to him today, to cut to the chase, and make all our political leaders who have been elected or re-elected this year, to tackle the core issue of debt and deficit together.

In doing so, we might stand a chance of dodging the bullet. Treasurer, tell me why this would not work?

Chris Smith presents The Chris Smith Show Monday to Friday 12:00pm to 3:00pm on 2GB, 4BC & 2CC Radio

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