Fear and greed, say the cynics, are the most elemental of human motivators; in the end, the gentler emotions will inevitably succumb to the sinful duo. And so it has been for Malcolm Turnbull in his first official week of campaigning.
The fear he has brought on himself: the rhetoric on Bill Shorten’s modest proposal to limit negative gearing has now reached tornadic proportions. This is in spite of the Reserve Bank, almost all economists, Jeff Kennett, Joe Hockey, even, at one stage, Scott Morrison accepting that some gentle reforms would not be a bad idea.
Interestingly, the opposition has not daunted Turnbull in the least; but what should worry him is an onslaught of friendly fire from the Real Estate Institute. Yes, the spruikers, speculators and profiteers of the property market are joining forces with Australia’s prime minister. Can second car salesmen, cancer quacks and tabloid journalists be far behind? With friends like these ….
And the greed also came from friendly fire – or at least those who could normally be counted on to support the Liberals. Australia’s richest four per cent are outraged – white hot with anger – at the suggestion that they might reduce one of their tax lurks in the common good.
They had planned for their future, and now it was to be taken away from them – retrospectively! Well, perhaps not, but that doesn’t assuage their indignation, and there is a precedent. Way back in 1980 Malcolm Fraser’s treasurer John Howard enacted legislation to outlaw what was known as “bottom of the harbour” schemes – a blatant form of tax avoidance.
The fury of those who were affected by that nice little earner was violent and prolonged; the repercussions dragged on for years and may even have contribute to the demise of the Fraser government in 1983. The current spat may not be so drawn out but while it lasts it is likely to be a major headache for Turnbull and Morrison; the only consolation is that the super rich involved are not likely to vote Labor as a result.
But their greed is boundless; the idea that they might not be allowed to work their tax schemes at will is all but defiance of a law of nature. In fact there will be still substantial considerations: they will still be able to dip into the public trough. But not quite to the extent that they feel entitled to.
And at least part of it was Morrison’s fault: he did not consult them first. They wouldn’t have taken much notice but at least they could not have claimed that they had been ambushed. As it is, their government has betrayed them. It will end in tears – or worse, serious recriminations.
For Shorten, things are not so serious. The persistent trawling to unearth candidates who are not entirely happy with the Pacific Solution and Operation Sovereign Borders is providing plenty of victims, but there is no real indication that the public cares – the boats have stopped. If they started up again there would certainly be problems, but there is no immediate prospect of that happening, so we have, as they say, moved on.
Shorten has also got his lines somewhat confused about the education revolution – just how much and when will it tickle the hip pocket nerve? But once again, this is something of a non-event. Just about every parent and every teacher will tell you that extra funding for schools, provided that they are targeted properly to afford the most valuable outcomes, is simply a no-brainer, and Gonski, although not yet elevated to the giddy heights of Medicare as a national icon, is still a huge positive for Labor.
The naysayers are a bit confused about it; last week The Australian ran a breathless front page explaining that money was not the answer because the Chinese only spent half the amount Australia paid, and everyone knew how clever their children are. This was too silly even for the regular readers of the paper, who went straight to the letters columns to debunk the absurd comparison.
There will, at the very least, be a major trickle down effect for implementing Gonski in full, and of course the social and political dividends are simply unarguable. And it is worth remembering that trickle down is all that is credibly promised from the National Economic Plan for corporate tax cuts.
And the last distraction of the week came from the wily Richard di Natale, who presented a shopping list in the event of a hung parliament, averring that Shorten would inevitably fall to the bait rather than subject the nation for a second election. Shorten denied this indignantly, but his bluster was unconvincing: politicians, as di Natale pointed out, exist to gain power.
But it should be added that Labor would not be the only bidder in the auction if the all but unthinkable occurred: the coalition would be in it with at least equal zeal. It is worth recording that in 2010 Abbott was in it with his ears back; he reportedly told Tony Windsor that he would do anything except sell his arse to become prime minister. Even Turnbull’s most assiduous and irritating propagandist, Matthias Cormann, refuses to commit to a new poll after the marathon of the last one.
And the climax, to give it an importance it does not deserve, was the set piece in western Sydney, an event endlessly masticated by the political tragics and almost entirely ignored by the general public.
The first of the debates, or forums, or whatever they are supposed to be called, gave the audience a clear win for Shorten. Some of the commentators said that this was because almost all of the questions were on his agenda, but this is precisely the point: Shorten was talking about a lot more than Turnbull, whose maunderings about his national economic plan simply did not cut through. But there will be other opportunities, and Turnbull will have to reprogram fear, greed, jobs and growth if he is to connect with the masses. He can’t hope to win on the backs of the super rich and the Real Estate Institute.