They just are… dumb politics
Wayne Swan’s 2012-13 blueprint was well crafted and immediately drew errors from the Opposition.
Tony Abbott’s one-speed approach to political combat apparently blinded him to the knuckle-headedness of standing between voters and a wedge of cash.
By invoking the arbitrary principle that cash hand-outs are bad policy, Mr Abbott again showed how bluntly oppositional he is prepared to be. But it was dumb politics.
Labor’s Schoolkids Bonus to help families with primary and or secondary school children pay for uniforms and laptops etc, was not new.
Rather it was a re-configured version of an existing program after the Government realised the requirement on parents to keep receipts had limited the grant’s take-up rate - or as Mr Swan put it, the money “wasn’t going far enough down the income spectrum”.
Obsessed as it is with the carbon tax, the Opposition believes the bonus is nothing more than a bribe to assuage voter anger.
That conviction informed its rather insensitive assertions that the money was just as likely to be funnelled through poker machines as it was spent on education expenses.
But when Mr Abbott was asked how the Schoolkids Bonus was different in principle to the more generous $4000 Baby Bonus he had championed, his response was embarrassingly thin. “They just are…” he ventured.
Joe Hockey was even less convincing opining that the BB was “vastly different” because to get it, you had to have a baby.
It was rare gold for Ms Gillard who mocked both men to great effect in parliament.
Coalition confusion didn’t end there. In a further confounding distinction, the Opposition has decided to support another increase to middle-class welfare via the Family Tax Benefit system despite that aspect being funded by the mining tax.
Remember, this is the same tax which was to fund the company tax cuts (supposedly an article of faith for the business party) but which the Opposition had refused to support because they were associated with the mining tax.
Work that out.
These events were enough to fan Labor hopes that its own leadership might be getting its act together.
But this is “inside the beltway” stuff.
Labor’s problems in the suburbs of Australia are far more structural than can be dealt with by even a string of good weeks in Parliament.
It remains hog-tied to its recent history - the crazy-brave decisions to first tear down Kevin Rudd and then to spectacularly kill him all over again earlier this year.
The longer-term implications of February’s ill-conceived leadership tilt by the Rudd camp are yet to be realised.
It remains a mystery why the then Foreign Minister allowed himself to be goaded into running while he was so far short of the numbers and while the deeply odious carbon tax implementation period had yet to play out. As one neutral player observed, that alone raised questions over his abilities.
“It showed he didn’t have too many moves of his own to make,” said the figure.
The annihilation of Rudd was so absolute that it effectively welded shut that particular escape hatch in the future as well - something the Government may well come to rue. This is because many Labor MPs know in their hearts that if it were to come to another leadership change, there is really only one answer that voters would consider and that’s Kevin Rudd.
This is Labor’s second big problem. Everything from here to the election depends on what it already has on the table and nobody’s buying.
And it’s why everything has now been banked on the twin aims of cash for “working families” and a surplus at all costs.
This will be difficult because it will almost certainly involve making further unpopular spending cuts mid-year to protect the small $1.5 billion surplus.
Indeed the surplus has gone from the usual “projection” offered in most budgets, to a promise. Unlike this year in which the deficit blew out by 100 per cent, 2012-13’s surplus is already a lock.
How do we know this? Because Mr Swan said so at the National Press Club on Tuesday: “Treasurer, just to clarify, are you saying that you would be willing to cut further if necessary to ensure you do meet that surplus and you remain the $1.5 billion man?”
Can’t be clearer than that.
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