Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Why an Abbott election victory would be good - part 2

On 5 September 2013, I posted this blog post linking to this 'The Vine' post. I can't help thinking that it was somewhat prophetic.

I have been making snarky comments to my friends that the best thing that could have happened at the Libs party meeting this Monday was for Abbott to survive. When he did, I joked that Bill 'short-stuff' Shorten would be cheering.

Because Abbott can't win another election.

The Coalition may be able to scrape another narrow election victory in a few years, but there is just no way that Abbott can remain as leader in the long-run. Moreover, the chances are good that if a competent ALP candidate runs in his seat, we will see another John Howard-style Coalition defeat, with Abbott losing his seat as his party tumbles from power.

And what then?

I certainly wouldn't say that Labor has an easy job at this next election. I don't think the Coalition can win, but I am certain that the ALP can lose. The biggest problem is not the factional in-fighting which has characterised the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era, but the lack of a settled direction.

Bill Shorten certainly isn't helping. His media presence is sadly lacking, to the extent that I didn't really know what he looks like until I googled him this morning.

For your information, this is him. 

Whilst the ALP has fallen far short of Abbott's destructive 'NO' attitude in opposition, they certainly haven't come out with any defining policies yet. It may be early on, but I argue that this is exactly the time when Labor should be beginning to develop and sell its policies.

The ALP has done a good job of keeping quiet whilst the Coalition has self-destructed under Abbott's fiat, and I think that whoever was advising them not to try to grab the spotlight was right on. Abbott was doing a good enough job of showing he wasn't fit to lead over the last few months, but I just get the feeling that the worst is over. Abbott has hit a low, and he will be so tightly regulated by his party now that he probably won't scratch himself without giving it some thought. This can't last, (this is Abbott we are talking about), but the ALP can't sit around and wait for the next cock-up.

So what do they do now?

Politics in recent years has been typified on both sides of the fence by short-term electioneering, and a lack of long-range planning. I think that the ALP needs to start developing policies now, but not just developing it, but selling it as well.

The ALP needs to take a different stance on the economy. We have seen that drastic cost-cutting (coming close to austerity) isn't working. Government revenues are falling, and no amount of job-losses is going to fix that. In fact, as we have seen in Europe, the onset of austerity has actually worsened the situation, because for every person who is sacked from a well-paid government job, you get one more person who will be reliant on handouts, paying much less tax. Plus, you get the associated drop in productivity, which reinforces the whole problem.

So let's start talking about superannuation reform. Sure, increasing taxes (or removing concessions) is always going to be unpopular, so start selling it now. This should be a no-brainer - the people who are putting mega-bucks into Super aren't the ones who are going to be reliant on the pension when they retire anyway, so tightening up the rules around super contributions seems a great way to increase revenue without risking a substantial additional cost.

If the ALP avoids phrases such as 'budget emergency' and other hyperbolic slogans, but focuses instead on 'fairness', they have nearly 2 years to sell this to the populace. As most people aren't going to be affected the reforms to mega-earners, there shouldn't be a substantial impact on the polls. Indeed, since the richer you are, the more conservative you tend to be, the people most affected wouldn't be voting for the ALP anyway.

It goes against trend to start developing and advertising policies this far away from an election, but I argue that it is what this country needs.

Other issues which bear consideration include raising or broadening the GST. This is again something which would need to be sold to the public, not dumped on them at the last minute.

I argue that instead of simply releasing policy statements, the ALP should be releasing draft legislation within 6 months. As they are in opposition, they don't have much to lose, and if they start selling themselves as a 'consultative' government, then they will avoid the pitfalls of the Rudd/Abbott propensity to rule by fiat, and can avoid the criticism of 'policy on the run.'

Finally, lets get people talking about these issues by engaging in real, slogan-free debates. Let's get finance ministers who actually understand finance debating in public about the ins and outs of the proposed legislation. Let's ban words such as 'budget emergency' and 'sustainability' (at least in finance debates), and allow the debaters to take questions on notice to be answered once they can consult the facts.

And if the ALP wanted to market themselves as a government who wouldn't attack the poor and pat the rich on the back, all the better. But they have to start doing it now.

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