This week the Opposition simply has to turn up
The Government’s capacity for self harm rolled on today with what amounted to a public and unnecessary wrist slashing by Treasurer Wayne Swan. The episode underlined that, so far this year at least, the Government has had more to fear from itself than anything Tony Abbott has been able to throw at it.
This instance began early this morning when Mr Swan was interviewed on Radio Nation about Opposition-fuelled and unsupported speculation the Budget would contain income tax increases to pay for the Government’s promises. Would income taxes be going up? Mr Swan would say neither yes nor no.
“I don’t… go into that sort of rule-in, rule-out routine, and I’m not doing it today,” he said.
“What I’ll do is the responsible thing - put in place a strict fiscal policy, make sure that working Australians get a fair go, that there is incentive in the tax system, that we build up their superannuation.
“They’re the sort of things I’ll do, and I’ll leave the speculation for everybody else.”
Sorry, but you don’t leave hanging the possibility of increases in the basic levy on workers, the tax most familiar to the voting public, the impost to which we are most sensitive.
Walking away with the possibility unresolved and an invitation to keep speculating was not going to be ignored by shadow treasurer Joe Hockey.
“This morning Wayne Swan refused to rule out increases in personal income tax. He claimed that is not the sort of game that he does participate in before a Budget,” Mr Hockey told reporters.
“That didn’t stop his Prime Minister ruling out increasing the taxation on withdrawals from superannuation after the age of 60, on the floor of the Parliament. This is a Government that’s Budget is in total chaos.”
The Government suddenly was in fresh discomfort, even though it is the Opposition which would put up income taxes, by eliminating Labor tax relief for low income earners. This was last year’s tripling of the tax-free threshold from $6000 to $18,000, saving about one million people from paying any tax.
Mr Swan might have mentioned that on-air.
By mid-morning the inevitable happened and the Treasurer had to release a written statement clarifying his own statements on radio. It was “utterly ridiculous and absurd” to suggest income tax would be going up.
“The Government’s record on personal income taxes couldn’t be more clear. We delivered cuts to personal incomes taxes in three consecutive Budgets worth a total of $47 billion,” said Mr Swan.
And he finally got around to a bit of aggressive defence.
“Make no mistake, the only party advocating an increase to income tax at this election is Tony Abbott’s Liberals,” said his statement.
“Tony Abbott has an explicit policy of jacking up income tax for hard working Australians everywhere. His promise to scrap the tripling of the tax free threshold means a tax hike to over six million Australians of at least $300 per year, and brings a million people back into the tax system.”
The Opposition is hugely vulnerable on its fiscal management, and Tony Abbott has a mounting list of promises and proposals he has yet to back up with any identification of funding.
But this morning Wayne Swan made sure the centre of attention was the Government.
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