Election Campaign Still Not Informing Voters

I start by mentioning that my daughter, Lisa, is re-visiting us in Australia after performing in America (where she presently lives) to give piano recitals here. She has recently played on several occasions in New York and has had excellent reviews in the NY Times.  Her first recital here on this occasion is at the Melbourne Recital Centre next Wednesday at 6pm (the program is here and tickets are available – phone 9699 3333).

Election Campaign A Scatter: But Started Favouring Morrison

Yesterday’s electioneering has started across scattered issues, with both sides seemingly stuck on announcing every day small amounts of new money for initiatives regarding which the great majority know little about (other of course than to “buy votes”). The Coalition needs to focus more on the economic picture which, Morrison says, is what the Coalition is all about. Rather surprisingly, Shorten has attracted media criticism while Morrison has come off largely scot free. Of particular interest was that the leftish Australian Financial Review drew considerable attention to Shorten’s problems. It is encouraging that this section of the media has (almost) given a bipartisan view/comment.

The heading of the AFR article “Shorten’s $34b Super Gaffe” clearly does not help Shorten. It relates partly to Shorten’s response at a press conference that “We have no plans to increase taxes on superannuation … (or) to introduce any new taxes on superannuation.” In fact, it appears that there is a Labor policy which would raise $37bn over a decade from the super industry. As the article says, “Labor has announced four superannuation policies ahead of the election campaign, which the Coalition estimates would see a $34 billion increase in tax over a decade, hitting hundreds of thousands of workers” ( for details see article). Excuses have been made by Labor spokesmen and Shorten now seems to be saying that he meant no additional taxes are intended.

In what the article describes as an “awkward press conference”, Shorten also “repeatedly declined to answer questions about the impact the opposition’s carbon emissions reduction policies would have on the economy”.  The Australian also reports on this press conference (see Shorten in Testy Clash with Reporter) and, if more journalists were prepared to follow suit, voters might get a reasonably accurate picture of what both sides are proposing. In an interview tonight Shorten did say that he does not agree with the model produced by Dr Fisher (that was reported in an earlier Commentary now on my web). But Shorten did not offer any  estimate other than to say that the economy will grow by a particular amount, which interviewer Dr Stone claimed would mean a slower rate.

But changes need to go further than this. As I have argued in earlier Commentary, an attempt should be made by the media and other organizations to highlight the failure of  Labor to produce an alternative Budget to the 2019/20 to 2022-23 one recently presented to Parliament by the Coalition. This is “standard practice” and should concentrate on what might happen in the next four years, not the next ten for which any figuring is pretty meaningless (in fact, budgets normally describe any figures after the next two years as “projections”, not estimates).

Today’s Australian published my letter (see below) expressing concern that Labor has not done the same as the Coalition and arguing that at least Bowen should ask the Parliamentary Budget Office (with whom Bowen appears to have been in close contact and which body has (properly) advised Bowen) to produce a Labor budget.

The absence of any such alternative budget by Labor has led to a suggestion made on Sky News tonight by Dr Judith Sloan and Dr Andrew Stone that Labor has gone into the election without being adequately prepared and is now in a catch up phase. As the AFR  article says, “Labor was forced on the backfoot over revelations it had deleted dozens of paragraphs of details over its negative gearing and capital gains tax policies from its website”.  Shorten should certainly be pressured by the media and of course by the Coalition to produce  a full explanation of its policies as well as an alternative budget.

Bowen needs to back up his economics policies with proper costings

Letter Published by The Australian, April 17, 2019 (Bit in square brackets deleted by Ed).

Your survey of the initial election promises by the two main parties (“Voter disillusionment fed by dishonesty in politics”, 16/4) raises concerns about their effect on total budget spending and revenue [and whether some promises can actually be implemented]. The Coalition has already provided an estimated budget for the next four years, including tiny surpluses, and this should be updated during the campaign if even further additional spending is announced.

There is particular concern that Labor is not providing any alternative budget except to claim its surpluses will be larger than the Coalition’s. But how can we voters assess that claim without also having estimates for spending and revenue.

True, estimates by Treasury made before the campaign started show that the level of taxation under Labor would reach 26 per cent of GDP whereas the Coalition has confirmed it would not rise beyond 23.9 per cent.

Surprisingly, Labor Treasurer Chris Bowen has questioned Treasury estimates but without providing any himself. This despite the public’s legitimate interest and his access to the Parliamentary Budget Office, which he should now ask to publish its assessment of Labor’s costings as soon as possible.

Des Moore, former deputy secretary, Treasury, South Yarra.

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