The First Week


Parliament’s first week back after the summer break witnessed quite a bit of excitement, with Deputy PM Joyce leading the way or should I say presenting a new partner and, at the same time, making sure that 7.30 (and those watching) know that it’ a “private matter”. The following extract from today’s Cut and Paste certainly shows Joyce at full throttle

“Well, Leigh, what I want to do is make sure that private matters remain private … I don’t think it profits anybody to drag private matters out into the public arena … it’s a private matter … I will keep private matters private … ­salami slicing of a private life … private matters should remain private and that’s part of my private life … private matters remain private and I’m going to keep my private life private …”

Of course, it isn’t just a private matter when the Deputy PM and Leader of the National Party decides to change partners, the more so as it is reported to have been known around the traps for some time but somehow “the media” decided not to mention a word. Amazing – one wonders how many other VIPs’ private matters are being kept “secret”.

Voters (and particularly members of the relevant party)are surely entitled to know if those they have elected have become constrained in carrying out their roles because of illness, serious financial difficulties, or serious family problems. The importance of the latter is illustrated by those senior MPs and business leaders who resign from their positions and quite frequently say “I have to spend more time with my wife and family”. Joyce will doubtless say that he has been working hard but could it have affected his judgement on policy, even intra Nationals, issues?

Even though Nationals must have been concerned about Turnbull’s consistent poor polling,it has certainly been difficult to detect any hint from Joyce of a difference between the two parties on issues such as climate change where one might expect rurals to be more skeptical. Joyce’s popularity within the Nationals may also have suffered because of his role in moving fellow National Darren Chester out of ministerial responsibility for transport and infrastructure, and out of Cabinet completely, in the pre-Christmas Cabinet changes.

Turnbull on Tax Reform

Some may have been expecting that, after the two months summer break, the Turnbull government would be announcing new policies or at least significant variants of existing policies. But, on the key issue of tax policy, what has emerged is uncertainty. In question time Turnbull accused Shorten of being a “job-destroying, business hating populist” for opposing company tax cuts and in effect he fell back to Plan B by switching to cuts in personal income tax for the May budget. But here the Coalition’s promise of returning to a budget surplus by 2021 provides scope for only limited tax reductions unless major cuts in spending can be effected. These show no sign of emerging. In fact, additions to spending on child care and on subsidies for (of all things) arms exporters have occurred.

Turnbull will in any event find Labor (and some in the Senate) also opposing reductions for those in the high income brackets. As the election gets closer it appears that the scope for making promises which affect the budget, and the scope for promises, is diminishing unless Turnbull can adopt a more aggressive role on spending.

Workplace Relations

One of the Cabinet changes made before Christmas was to move Michaela Cash to Jobs & Innovation and to make Craig Laundy responsible for what was her responsibility, Workplace Relations. This appears to be something of a downgrade for workplace relations and a confirmation that Turnbull will not attempt major changes in the regulatory system and the excessive role played by unions. Although Laundy has now indicated that he intends to seek changes to the regulations, that would be within the Fair Work system. And,  although he has three workplace bills before Parliament which would give the government more power over unions and union officials, it is unlikely that the Senate will pass them.

An important policy issue here is also the minimum wage, which the Minister and the PM need to be on top of (surprisingly the Treasurer seems to have little to say on IR). Last week Shorten called for a large increase hourly pay for low income workers –adding that “the minimum wage is no longer a living wage”.”Our goal should be a real, living wage – effectively raising the pay of all Australians, particularly the 2.3 million who depend upon the minimum rates in the awards,” he said (see Minimum Wage). The reality is that raising the wage of lowly skilled workers not only risks lowering their employment levels. Under present Fair Work distribution rules, it also means the so-called minimum will be paid to people who are also in households well up the income scale.  As expert analyst Mark Wooden (professor at the Melbourne Institute) points out in the attached, “Almost 44 per cent are in the top half of the income distribution, and only 16 per cent are in the bottom quintile.”  So much for the minimum wage.

Greens Need to be Rebutted

Shorten’s proposal for establishing a “real, living wage” reflects the far left policy adopted by UK Labour leader Corbyn to “help those who are left behind” and have the government playing a much bigger role in society. Such policies form part of the policies adopted by the Greens in Australia. Their attitude has sprung to attention by the astonishing attack by Greens MP Adam Bandt on new Senator Jim Moran, a retired major general who led Australian and US forces against Islamic extremists in Iraq. According to Bandt, Moran is a “complete coward” (and a few other similar epithets).

Bandt’s remarks, and those of his leader’s Di Natale, indicate the threat to society that would result if the party (which gets about 10% of votes) manages to influence policies adopted by the two big parties. In fact it has already had a direct influence through the rainbow coalition with Gillard when she was PM and, desperate to stay in government, agreed to a carbon tax (see this excellent article on Kenny on Greens). And it has been able to influence outcomes in the Senate.

Now that the outlandish views of the Greens have been exposed there is an opportunity for Turnbull to take the matter further and benefit the Coalition. Although the Coalition is unlikely to win the by-election on 17 March in the Batman electorate (just north of Melbourne), it should nominate a candidate on the basis that he will seize every opportunity to expose the faults in the policies of the Greens, who have been thought to have a good chance of winning (the seat was held by Labor). The fact that this is a possibility is an indication of the failure of liberal views to be exposed and spread by both federal and state Liberal parties.   A launching of the program of a Coalition candidate for Batman could be the start of a revival of the polling for the Coalition.

Of course, that requires  improvements in policies presently advocated by Turnbull. Some are mentioned above; others have been explained in earlier Commentary.

Trump’s Polling Improving

A report by Breitbart refers to the latest Rasmussen poll showing that Trump’s job approval rating is at 48 percent, about 4 percentage points higher than Obama’s  at this time in his own presidency. A smaller percentage disapproved of the job being done by Trump (see this document which is titled Media Fail: Trump More Popular than Obama at This Point in Presidency).

The magazine, which is of course pro Trump, portrays this as “a massive failure for the American media.” Much the same can be said about most of the Australian media, particularly the ABC and SBS, in their treatment of Trump.

Also, as mentioned in my previous Commentary, with cuts in taxes and increased spending Trump faces major fiscal and debt problems. This in turn is pushing up market interest rates and the Fed may also raise official rates. Similarly, the share market, already down about 10%, is almost certain to fall further.

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