Today’s Australian publishes an unchanged electoral position of the two major parties (TPPs of 50% each) but another reduction in Turnbull’s net satisfaction ratio. He is still well ahead of Shorten in the unchanged Better PM category (55/21). But the uncertainty about Coalition policy in various areas has been allowed by Turnbull to reach the point where an “early” election seems increasingly likely, with policies being unduly determined by electoral “demands” and Turnbull himself having a bigger say as to what is in the policies.
My previous Commentary drew attention to Greg Sheridan’s article in The Australian of 5 March on the decision by the Turnbull Government to delay the acquisition of new submarines until the early 2030s. Sheridan argued that this was a change of policy and that it was highly questionable to continue to use the Collins sub until the early 2030s even if upgraded.
When Abbott publicly expressed serious concern at the decision to start in the early 2030s, Turnbull responded by implying that it wasn’t a change in policy and referring to statements by Defence chiefs accepting the continuation of the (upgraded) Collins sub. Today’s AFR also runs an article by Brian Toohey which claims that “the planned retirement of the Collins class submarines from 2025-26 can’t be met because their replacements won’t be ready” (see “Submarines: the Abbott delivery date could never have been met”) . The source of his analysis is not clear but an official “feed” may have occurred. Note also that Toohey concedes in the digital version “The nation has been saddled with absurdly high sustenance costs to keep its six Collins subs going”.
Today’s AFR also published my letter (see below) which not only suggests that there was a change of policy but calls for a detailed justification of the continued use of the Collins sub, even on an upgraded basis . Whether the continuation of the Collins is or isn’t new policy is much less important than whether it is the right policy. And are 6 subs likely to be enough in early 2030s. The public wants a justification by the PM or his Minister (where is she?), not one from Brian Toohey. Turnbull’s failure himself to provide a detailed justification of this policy seems to be a repeat of what has happened in other policy areas and leaves the public uncertain.
Also published in the AFR is an article by John Stone (see below) reminding Turnbull and his ministers that there has been no advance indication that significant expenditure reductions will be presented in the budget on 10 May (or even earlier it is now mooted) in order to finance the reductions in taxes that are required and presumably the additional defence expenditure required to lift it from 1.6 to the 2.0 per cent of GDP target. This adds to the now widely accepted need for an expenditure reduction policy. Perhaps the budget itself will reveal a program of reductions. But any sizeable reduction, say 1% of GDP for starters, will require a major selling exercise before the election – an exercise that should have been started some time ago.