Have you ever played fetch with a dog and pretended to throw the ball for the dog to chase? The first time you do it, the dog cheerfully bolts off to ‘retrieve’ the ball. Then, after about 20 metres, it stops – confused as to where the ball is. After a bit of sniffing around, it ruefully trots back to you with no idea of what happened and how the ball ended up back in your hands.
Amused by the whole affair, you do it again with the same result. However, after about the third or fourth time, the dog is on to your charade. As you ‘throw’ the ball, it now just sits there looking at you – wondering when you’re going to stop taking it for a fool and just throw the damn thing.
This is where things currently stand with Malcolm Turnbull after his latest ill-conceived thought bubble. The problem for Turnbull is that he’s jingled his keys one time too many. This time, instead of fetching, the public is now curiously watching – and it doesn’t like what it sees.
We’ve heard this song before
On 9 February 2016, I described how Turnbull was twisting in the wind:
For the last five months, the following manual could easily have been crafted for Turnbull:
- Step 2 – let it sit for months without giving any specifics of what you would actually do or what you actually believe in. Don’t say crazy things like ‘raising the GST’, let other people do that. Instead, repeat words like ‘exciting’, ‘agile’, ‘opportunity’ and ‘reform’. It’s not a slogan if it’s only one word.
- Step 3 – see how much of your piddle lands back in your face.
- Step 4 – if it all gets too hairy with the focus groups, loosely abandon ship with words like ‘yet to be convinced‘ and and then jingle your keys in another direction (like negative gearing). 99.9% of society’s total collective memory of the issue will be erased within about 48-72 hours.
- Step 5 – if people notice that nothing worthwhile is getting done, you can always say that you’re being ‘measured’ and ‘consultative’. Political writers like Malcolm Farr will eat this kind of stuff up and lick the bowl for you.
- Step 6 – go back to step 1 and repeat.
Turnbull has used this blueprint on at least four major concepts: raising the GST, reducing the capital gains tax discount, reducing/eliminating negative gearing – and now, ‘giving’ income tax responsibilities to the States.
As usual, Turnbull’s latest idea is bereft of essential details and any signs of benefit analysis.
What to make of it
In principle, the idea of handing all income tax collection to the States is one worth discussing. Indeed, income tax used to be a State responsibility before World War I. However, this is far from what Turnbull has in mind.
As Graham Richardson (quoting Jack Lang) beautifully put it: ‘You can always back self-interest. It’s the one horse in the race that’s always trying’. In this context, there isn’t a Scotch bottle’s chance in an AA meeting that Turnbull or any Federal government would ever hand over complete control of that kind of money and power to the States. No, no, Turnbull wants to ‘share’ the responsibility and take us back to the days of 1915-1942, when this kind of system was last in place:
Mr Turnbull declared the only thing in ample supply in the current system, which is beset with overlapping federal-state responsibilities, was “finger pointing and blame”.
“We’re all sick of it,” he said.
“What we are proposing to the states is that we should work together on this basis: that we, the federal government, will reduce our income tax by an agreed percentage and allow state governments to levy an income tax equal to that amount that we have withdrawn from.
In other words, Turnbull wants to fix the finger pointing and overlapping with more complex tax legislation, more overlapping and nine income tax jurisdictions (*) – all with the intention of collecting essentially the same amount of income tax, just with more government administration and double handling:
“From a taxpayers’ point of view, he or she would pay the same amount of income tax but the states would be raising the money themselves. We would obviously administer it and collect it for them so again there’d be no compliance costs.”
Yep, that should definitely do the trick.
(*) Six States, two Territories plus the Commonwealth.
If Tony Abbott were more spiteful (than he probably already is), he would hold a press conference and simply read out the following parts of Turnbull’s leadership challenge speech word for word – not to mount a challenge, but simply with the intention to walk off laughing:
I have consulted with many, many colleagues, many Australians, many of our supporters in every walk of life.
This course of action has been urged on me by many people over a long period of time. It is clear enough that the government is not successful in providing the economic leadership that we need. It is not the fault of individual ministers.
Ultimately, the prime minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs. He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs.
Now, we are living as Australians in the most exciting time. The big economic changes that we’re living through here and around the world offer enormous challenges and enormous opportunities. And we need a different style of leadership.
We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges and opportunities … and how to seize the opportunities. A style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it.
We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people. Now if we continue with Mr
AbbottTurnbull as Prime Minister, it is clear enough what will happen. He will cease to be prime minister and he’ll be succeeded by Mr Shorten.
Our values of free enterprise, of individual initiative, of freedom, this is what you need to be a successful, agile economy in
20152016. What we have not succeeded in doing is translating those values into the policies and the ideas that will excite the Australian people and encourage them to believe and understand that we have a vision for their future.
We also need a new style of leadership in the way we deal with others whether it is our fellow members of parliament, whether it is the Australian people. We need to restore traditional cabinet government. There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls.
We need to be truly consultative with colleagues, members of parliament, senators and the wider public. We need an open government, an open government that recognises that there is an enormous sum of wisdom both within our colleagues in this building and, of course, further afield.
But above all we have to remember that we have a great example of good cabinet government. John Howard’s government most of us served in, and yet few would say that the cabinet government of Mr
AbbottTurnbull bears any similarity to the style of Mr Howard. So that’s what we need to go back to.
The fact is we are maybe
10 months, 11 3 months away from the next election. Every month lost is a month of lost opportunities. We have to make a change for our country’s sake, for the government’s sake, for the party’s sake.
Please, you’ll understand that I now have to go and speak to my colleagues…
(PS: I was going to highlight the good bits, but there are far too many).
Labor could be a chance
As for Labor, despite Turnbull’s best efforts, it still doesn’t have a hope of winning the upcoming election under Bill Shorten. A trip to any bookie confirms this.
However, if Labor is serious about having a real go, then it would replace Shorten with Anthony Albanese and tell him to stay away from the massage parlours. From there, a Steve Bradbury moment would be eminently possible: