Four months out from a likely election day, the Australian Labor Party is sitting pretty. The polls have Labor commandingly ahead of the Coalition, and even Bill Shorten’s great unpopularity isn’t lead in Labor’s saddlebags.
The opposition leader is confident of victory, hubristically so. Having built his policy platform over two terms, Mr Shorten is taking to the election the biggest opposition manifesto since John Hewson lost the unlosable election in 1993. Unlike Dr Hewson, however, who proposed drastic medicine for the then bloated and inefficient Australian economy and government, Mr Shorten is taking the lazy, give-the-people-what-they-want path to government.
Labor’s manifesto is a tax-and-spend bonanza. On the spending side, whatever the Coalition government has done that was unpopular since September 2013 gets special treatment. Didn’t like the GP co-payment back in 2014? Labor is throwing billions more at Medicare, public hospitals and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Even though the Coalition wasted billions of dollars mimicking Labor with Gonski 2.0, that’s still not enough for greedy states and the Catholic education system. So still more billions out the door. Childcare? Don’t keep your three-year-olds at home, let the taxpayer take the little tykes off your hands, for a few more billion again. On and on and on.
But Labor’s spend-a-thon will not be paid for from unpopular funding cuts and offsets, except from scrapping Coalition programmes Labor doesn’t like. Take health. Labor’s Mediscare success in the 2016 election backed its blatant lies with lavish new healthcare spending. Its still-current Medicare policy is so absolute that even one dollar saved to offset Mr Shorten’s Medicare spending spree is a breach of its commitment.
In the absence of spending prudence, revenue raids underpin Mr Shorten’s Father Christmas impersonation. He may dress his tax grabs up as reforms targeting only the very rich, but his signature measures are full-on attacks against the lifters of middle Australia to hand over their hard-earned cash to the leaners beguiled by his class envy rhetoric. Removing superannuation concessions and taxing ‘excess’ super income; reimposing double taxation on share dividends; and slashing negative gearing all send a clear message that, under Labor, there is no point in individuals being financially prudent now, or in diverting larger than minimally-required income into superannuation accounts only to see their savings taxed to fund Labor’s spending addiction.
Then there’s the unions. Under de facto industrial relations minister and ACTU leader Sally McManus, a zealot so far to the left she makes Jeremy Corbyn look like Milton Friedman, Labor will ‘change the rules’ of industrial relations to entrench the power of militant unions so completely they will never again be tamed, even though most of the non-government workforce has voted with their feet when it comes to membership of these powerful and self-interested cabals, with their leaderships bankrolled by industry super funds. And the egregious likes of Miss McManus and that quintessential family man, John Setka of the CFMEU, will once again stride the halls of the Parliament House ministerial wing as if they own the place: and indeed they effectively will.
Added to this, Labor and its further-left allies want to weaken our border protection and restart the boats. Nobody likes or wants them, but Manus and Nauru perform an important job. They make people smuggling pointless and, although mandatory detention of a small number of illegal boat arrivals is ugly and unpleasant, it’s far better than the alternative of many hundreds of people again drowning at sea in death traps operated by unscrupulous people smugglers.
And, lastly, there’s Labor’s energy policy, with its determination to out-Paris Paris on emissions targets and throwing yet billions more at unreliable renewables that are nowhere near to making a significant contribution to baseloads and will drive up consumer and business power costs. Around the kitchen tables of middle Australia, Labor’s energy nonsense should be anathema: yet November’s Victorian election result, where similar pro-renewables policies were endorsed by normally Liberal voters, indicates Mr Shorten will get away it.
All in all, prime minister Scott Morrison and his ministers should be having a pre-election field day with such juicy targets, as Paul Keating once did with Fightback!. But other than the Energiser bunny, otherwise known as Josh Frydenberg, and Peter Dutton, the Morrison ministry is mostly nowhere to be seen this month: presumably they’re down at the beach. But surely they know the clock is ticking, with Australia’s future prosperity – and their jobs – on the line. If the government keeps letting Labor get away with its flim-flam and snake oil, and doesn’t get fiscally-responsible and conservative policies of its own out there before it’s too late, many Coalition MPs soon will be taking a permanent holiday.