Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has issued a timetable for the government’s dealing with the recommendations from the royal commission into banking, superannuation and financial services, which aims to have all measures needing legislation introduced by the end of next year.
The opposition has accused the government of dragging its feet on putting into effect the results of the inquiry, which delivered its final report early this year.
“The need for change is undeniable, and the community expects that the government response to the royal commission will be implemented swiftly,” Frydenberg said in a statement on the timetable.
Fydenberg said that in his final report Commissioner Kenneth Hayne made 76 recommendations – 54 directed to the federal government (more than 40 of them needing legislation), 12 to the regulators, and 10 to the industry. Beyond the 76 recommendations, the government had announced another 18 commitments to address issues in the report.
The government had implemented 15 of the commitments it outlined in responding to the report, Frydenberg said. This included eight out of the 54 recommendations, and seven of the 18 additional commitments the government made. “Significant progress” had been made on another five recommendations, with draft legislation in parliament or out for comment or consultation papers produced.
The government at first accepted most of this recommendation, announcing the payment of ongoing so-called “trailing commissions” would be banned on new loans from July 2020. Upfront commissions would be the subject to a separate review. Four weeks later in March Frydenberg announced the government wouldn’t be banning trailing commissions after all. Instead, it would review their operation in three years.
Releasing the timetable, Frydenberg said the reform program was the “biggest shake up of the financial sector in three decades” and the speed of implementation “is unprecedented”.
“It will be done in a way that enhances consumer outcomes with more accountability, transparency and protections without compromising the flow of credit and competition,” he said.
He undertook to ensure the opposition was briefed on each piece of legislation before it came into parliament.
“This will begin with the offer of a briefing by Treasury on the implementation plan. Given both the government and opposition agreed to act on the commission’s recommendations, we expect to achieve passage of relevant legislation without undue delays,” he said.
He said the industry was “on notice. The public’s tolerance has been exhausted. They expect and we will ensure that the reforms are delivered and the behaviour of those in the sector reflects community expectations.”
The citizenship provision of the Constitution’s section 44 has raised its head again, with the eligibility of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg being challenged by an elector in his Kooyong seat.
Michaal Staindl has filed a petition with the High Court, which sits as the Court of Disputed Returns, alleging Frydenberg is ineligible “because he is a citizen of the Republic of Hungary”.
The petition says
The respondent’s mother arrived in Australia in 1950 in possession of a valid passport, inferred to be a valid Hungarian passport. This indicates that she continued to be a citizen of Hungary after 1948.
Pursuant to the law of Hungary, all children born to the respondent’s mother are a citizen of Hungary from the time of their birth and in the premise, the respondent is a citizen of Hungary
Staindl told Guardian Australia he was pursuing the action against Frydenberg, whom he knew, because “he’s consistently betrayed me, the electorate and the country on climate change”.
The Guardian reported that Staindl “said if Frydenberg shows evidence he is not Hungarian he could drop the case”; otherwise, he said, he would “see it through”.
Under Section 44, a person cannot sit in the federal parliament if he or she is “under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power”.
In his “statement of member’s qualifications relating to section 44 and 45 of the constitution”, posted on Wednesday, Frydenberg records that his mother – who arrived in Australia as a refugee – was a Hungarian citizen between 1943 and 1948.
Frydenberg said “I have clear legal advice that I do not hold citizenship of another country.”
Section 44, which has several prohibitions, cut a swathe through the last parliament, overwhelmingly on citizenship grounds, hitting Coalition, Labor, and crossbench parliamentarians and triggering multiple byelections.
Although Frydenberg’s situation was canvassed during the previous term Labor backed off, given his mother had escaped the Holocaust.
Frydenberg, in comments in the last term, said his mother had arrived stateless. “It is absolutely absurd to think that I could involuntarily acquire Hungarian citizenship by rule of a country that rendered my mother stateless,” he said then.
Separately, Frydenberg’s eligibility is being challenged under the Electoral Act over Liberal party Chinese-language signs. This challenge is being brought by Oliver Yates, who ran as an independent against Frydenberg. It is claimed the signs were likely to have misled voters into thinking that to cast a valid vote they had to put the figure 1 beside the Liberal candidate.
A similar challenge over Chinese-language signs has been brought by a Chisholm voter against the new Liberal MP for Chisholm, Gladys Liu.
The ALP is not involved in the challenges.
The ALP’s acting national secretary Paul Erickson said in a statement that Labor was “disappointed by the tactics employed by the Liberal Party at the election, which went well beyond the accepted bounds of a vigorously contested campaign – especially in the divisions of Chisholm and Kooyong.
“The Chinese-language signs used by the Liberal Party in those contests were clearly designed to look like official Australian Electoral Commission voting instructions using the AEC colours, for the clear purpose of misleading Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking voters into voting for the Liberal Party,” he said.
But while there was a strong case that the signs breached the Electoral Act Labor was not seeking to overturn the results in Chisholm and Kooyong, given the cost and time involved, Erickson said.
As hissy fits go, it was a beauty. Pauline Hanson was very cross indeed. Senate leader Mathias Cormann hadn’t called her, even though he was reportedly negotiating on the government’s $158 billion package of income tax cuts.
Venting on Sky on Wednesday night, Hanson said: “I don’t think he’s got the guts to pick up the phone and actually talk to me. And to turn around and say that he’s negotiating with crossbenchers is not the truth, because he’s not negotiating with me”.
She went on to rail about the Liberals preferencing One Nation below Labor, doing “grubby deals” with Clive Palmer and trying to destroy her.
The three-stage 10-year package, which promises an extra tax offset for low and middle income earners, is the big game in town for the first days of the new parliament, which opens the week after next, and it’s causing some grief.
Despite the government’s confident words during the election campaign, the Tax Office has declined to pay the offset of up to $540 until the legislation is passed. This means the July 1 deadline from when the offset was supposed to be available will be missed. (Although people will get from July 1 the tax cut in the pipeline from last year’s budget.)
If the tax legislation is passed quickly, a few weeks’ delay for the offset is no big deal, especially as many people won’t be putting in their tax returns for a while. But the pressure on the government to deliver the first stage of its plan ASAP – not least because the economy needs the stimulus – reduces its ability to hold out indefinitely on its insistence it won’t split the package to accommodate objections to the later cuts.
Labor is in even more of a bind. It is happy to tick off the first stage – worth $15 billion – but has yet to decide its position on stages two (costing $48 billion and starting 2022-23) and three (costing $95 billion and commencing 2024-25).
Its objections are particularly to the last stage, which delivers cuts for higher income earners. Both the later stages come after the next election, due early 2022.
Those urging Labor should try to block at least stage three argue, apart from the equity issue, that mounting economic uncertainty makes it irresponsible to lock in such big tax cuts out in the “never never”.
On the other hand, a strong case can be made on grounds of principle and practicality for Labor to wave the whole package through.
The question of when a party or politician has a “mandate” is vexed.
On one view an opposition can claim it possesses a mandate to stay faithful to positions it advanced before an election even after it has lost that election.
But when the Morrison government went to the polls with the tax package as its prime policy, it does seem to have a strong case to say the parliament should pass it.
The same point would have applied if Bill Shorten had won. He would have had a mandate for his proposed changes to franking credits and negative gearing – both opposed by the Coalition.
It doesn’t help maintain faith in the political system, or in election promises, for parties to try to govern from opposition, despite the Senate’s voting system sometimes facilitating this. Voters should be able to expect that major election policies of the winning side are implemented (perhaps with some alterations at the edges by parliament).
It is another matter when, as happened with the Abbott government’s 2014 budget, big new controversial initiatives are brought in soon after the election campaign, during which they were not flagged.
The practical reason against Labor going to the barricades on the tax package is that as it regroups, there is little to be gained by taking on this particular battle, especially when it is trying to reposition itself as appealing better to “aspirational” voters and leaving behind language attacking the “top end of town”.
Labor might be right that the proposed long term tax cuts could look irresponsible later, but if so, that is a fight to be had at the next election, when the ALP could highlight doubts it had previously registered.
There are divisions in Labor about what to do. Victorian MP Peter Khalil this week said if the government won’t split the package, Labor should vote for it all. Anne Aly, a backbencher from Western Australia, expressed concern about the package’s implications against a darkening economic outlook. The ALP has asked the government for more information. Anthony Albanese is consulting within the party before shadow cabinet decides the position it takes to caucus.
While the government is focusing the rhetorical pressure on Labor, it has an eye to the alternative route – to get the package through via the crossbench.
For Cormann, the new Senate is easier than the last, partly because the non-Green crossbench has been slashed at the election.
To pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens the government needs four of the six non-Green crossbenchers. These include two from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, two from Centre Alliance, South Australia’s Cory Bernardi, and Tasmania’s Jacqui Lambie.
Bernardi will vote with the Coalition. He has said he wants to help the Morrison government as much as possible, and on Thursday he announced he is winding up his Australian Conservatives party. It’s not clear whether he’ll seek to rejoin the Liberals, from whom he defected in 2017, or even stay in the parliament.
Cormann has been in discussion with Centre Alliance about their push for lower gas prices, and an agreement on some action appears likely. While this deal is formally separate from the tax package, he and they both have that front of mind.
This would leave one vote to be collected.
Lambie refuses to comment on her position. Hanson said earlier this month she was “not sold” on the current package and “therefore not likely to support the measures” – and proposed some of the funds be used for a coal-fired power station and a water security scheme.
After Wednesday’s outburst, Cormann was (of course) on the phone to her at crack of dawn Thursday. On her account, he said: “I’m not negotiating with crossbenchers with this at all. We have our three stages. We’re going to pass that no matter what”.
The government aims to keep the heat on Albanese. By the same token, if the crossbench has to come into play, Cormann won’t want a repeat of last term, when he couldn’t muster the numbers to deliver tax relief to big companies.
The government’s tax relief package is shaping up as the first test of incoming opposition leader Anthony Albanese, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg declaring on Friday it must be supported “in its entirety” when put to the new parliament.
But Albanese has only guaranteed support for the first tranche. As for the later cuts for higher income earners, “we will consider that,” he said on Friday.
But let me tell you, it is a triumph of hope over experience and reality that the government knows […] what the economic circumstances are in 2025 or 2023, in the middle of the next decade.
Appearing with Albanese on the Nine Network, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said:
Albo, it would be remarkable if your first act as leader of the opposition was […] to oppose a long term package of tax relief – that would show a real tin ear for the Australian people”.
In an interview with The Conversation, Frydenberg refused to be drawn on what the government would do if unable to get the whole bill through.
It would, however, be hard for it to avoid splitting the bill – to hold out would deny the immediate relief pledged in the April budget.
All or nothing
Nor could Frydenberg say when parliament will meet to consider the legislation, although the government has effectively conceded it will not be in time for the promised July 1 start of the additional tax offset promised in the budget. (A smaller offset from last year’s budget will be paid from then.)
But Albanese said the tax cuts could be passed in time for July 1, because it would only need a couple of hours of sitting. “We’ll do a deal. I can do that. One speaker a side, and Bob’s your uncle.”
Frydenberg said Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe had highlighted the positive impact the tax cuts would have on household incomes.
“Let’s too not forget that $7.5 billion will flow to households in the coming financial year, as a result of these tax cuts,” Frydenberg said.
Tax cuts as good as rate cuts
“This benefit to households and the economy is equivalent to two 25 basis point interest rate cuts and is one reason why growth and household consumption is projected to pick up,” he said.
“The tax reforms we are putting to parliament are not just providing immediate relief, but leading to long term structural change. This will tackle bracket creep and reward aspiration.
“Earning more is nothing to be ashamed of and should be encouraged not punished. Rewarding aspiration is in the Coalition’s DNA and will be a fundamental driver of our policies in government.”
In his assessment of the economic outlook, Frydenberg had two messages.
He said in his discussions with some of Australia’s biggest employers, “I’ve been buoyed by their confidence and their desire to work with the government, to support continued economic growth and job creation”.
But the economy “faces significant headwinds. Trade tensions between the United States and China have increased, with the potential to negatively impact global growth.
“Were there to be another round of US tariff increases, the potential for which has been flagged publicly, the proportion of global trade covered by recent trade actions would double from 2% to 4%.”
Also, flood, drought and fires had taken a toll and the housing market slowdown was hitting dwelling investment and having an impact on consumption.
The challenges made the government’s agenda for growth, including tax relief, so important and time critical.
Asked whether the “headwinds” faced by the Australian economy were stronger than at budget time, when he also spoke of headwinds, Frydenberg said: “I think the tensions between China and the US have increased”.
Frydenberg spoke with the US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week and the two will meet in Japan at the G20 finance ministers meeting in a few weeks. Frydenberg stressed in the conversation the importance of free trade to Australia and its wish to see disputes resolved as amicably as possible.
Asked whether, if the economy deteriorated further, the government would be willing to live with a smaller surplus next financial year than the $7.1 billion projected in the budget, Frydenberg said, “that’s the amount that we’re committed to”.
He would not be drawn on the signal this week from Lowe that an interest rate cut was coming.
The Treasurer said the current unemployment rate of 5.2% reflected “strong labour market performance”.
While there are no plans for an overhaul of federal-state relations by the re-elected government, Frydenberg said he would work closely with the states on infrastructure and managing population.
The Morrison government has delivered an election-launch budget with big personal income tax handouts to attract voters and a A$7.1 billion 2019-20 surplus to display its economic credibility.
The budget – the first brought down by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – doubles the tax relief that average earners were due to receive within weeks, from $530 in last year’s budget to $1,080.
This outbids the relief that Labor promised last year. But the opposition immediately announced it would support the tax cuts that begin on July 1 “for working and middle-class people”.
“This is essentially a copy of what we proposed last year, and they are simply catching up to us,” Labor’s Shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, and finance spokesman, Jim Chalmers, said in a statement.
“The Liberals are so out of touch that they’ve given a much smaller tax cut to two million Australians earning less than $40,000. Labor will fix this and give these working people the tax relief they deserve,” Bowen and Chalmers said.
The surpluses will build over time – projected to total $45 billion over the next four years. “Surpluses will continue to build towards 1% of GDP within a decade,” Frydenberg said. The government’s goal was to eliminate Commonwealth net debt by 2030 or sooner.
He said the government’s economic plan restored the nation’s finances without increasing taxes, strengthened the economy and created more jobs, and guaranteed essential services, while tackling the cost of living.
For the 2019-20 year, economic growth is forecast at 2.75% and wages are forecast to increase by 2.75%. Unemployment is expected to be 5%.
One major saving in a budget that avoids widespread cuts is changing the social security income assessment model, saving more than $2.1 billion over five years.
The change will simplify and automate the reporting of social security recipients through the Single Touch Payroll. From July 2020, recipients who are employed will report income that is received during the fortnight rather than calculating and reporting their earnings. The government says this will greatly reduce overpayments.
The budget anticipates a substantial amount of additional revenue – $3.6 billion through cracking down on tax avoidance by large corporations, multinationals and high-wealth individuals.
As the government flagged ahead of the budget in a series of specific announcements, the budget includes an extensive infrastructure program, which it says it has boosted to $100 billion over the decade.
Frydenberg announced a four-fold increase in the Urban Congestion Fund – from $1 billion to $4 billion.
The fund will include a $500 million Commuter Carpark Fund to “improve access to public transport hubs and take tens of thousands of cars off our roads”.
Budget measures also target small and medium-sized businesses with an increased and expanded instant asset write-off. The write-off will rise from $25,000 to $30,000 per item and be extended to businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million.
There would be a $525 million skills package, including the creation of 80,000 new apprenticeships in industries with skills shortages. Incentive payments to employers will be doubled to $8,000 per placement. New apprentices will also receive a $2,000 payment.
Ten new training hubs will be established connecting schools, local industries and young people in regional areas with high youth unemployment. The government is also promising $62 million to boost students’ literacy, numeracy and digital skills, as well as further funding to increase the participation of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and maths.
There is also $453 million to extend preschool education, enabling 350,000 children to have 15 hours of early learning a week in the year before school.
Responding to Labor’s promise to unfreeze the Medicare rebate, the budget provides $187.2 million over four years to reintroduce indexation to all remaining general practitioner services.
It offers $527.9 million over five years for the recently announced royal commission into violence towards and abuse of people with disabilities.
The budget contains a new $3.9 billion Emergency Response Fund to “ensure additional resourcing is available to support future natural disaster recovery efforts”.
A $100 million Environment Restoration Fund is to deliver “large-scale environmental projects”, including protecting the habitats of threatened species, the coasts and the waterways and cleaning up waste.
Frydenberg warned about the economic outlook, saying: “The fundamentals of the Australian economy are sound but there are genuine and clear risks emerging both at home and abroad.
“The residential housing market has cooled, credit growth has eased and we are yet to see the full impact of flood and drought on the economy. Global trade tensions remain.”
Bowen and Chalmers said: “Scott Morrison has delivered an election con, filled with the same Liberal cuts.
“This is a Budget from a government that has given up governing. There is no plan for wages, no plan to tackle power prices, no plan to address climate change, and no plan for the future”.
Business was basically positive. The Business Council of Australia described it as both “a strong and responsible budget that delivers a surplus, lowers personal income taxes and invests in jobs, health, education and infrastructure. This is the payoff for the community from spending discipline and hard work.”
The Australian Industry Group said the stimulus inherent in the budget “is a timely and welcome boost for a slowing economy at a time of wavering business and household confidence”. But it criticised the cut in migration.
The ACTU slammed the budget as failing the fairness test. “It’s a cynical attempt to buy votes, but Morrison and Frydenberg are giving with one hand and taking away with the other.”
The Brotherhood of St Laurence attacked the budget for failing to do for more for the disadvantaged, including providing no increase to Newstart.
Chris Bowen has unpleasantly vivid memories, from when he was treasurer during the 2013 election campaign, of attributing costings of opposition policy to the public service.
Bowen, at a joint news conference with Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong, claimed a $10 billion hole in Coalition savings, citing advice from Treasury, Finance and the Parliamentary Budget Office. Within hours they’d been rebuked by the heads of all three, who called out the government’s misuse of their material.
All these years later, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has failed to learn from Bowen’s mistake. He has misused and verballed his department, and been caught out.
On Friday Bowen complained to the head of Treasury Phil Gaetjens and the secretary of the Prime Minister’s department Martin Parkinson about the government’s use of Treasury costings to claim Labor would impose a $387 billion tax burden over ten years.
The claim is based on adding the $230 billion cost of the second and third stages of the government’s income tax package – which have been rejected by the opposition – to the ALP’s announced tax hikes from its planned changes to negative gearing, franking credits arrangements, etc.
“Treasury costings indicate that Labor’s tax hit on the economy has almost doubled from their initial costings of around $200 billion to $387 billion,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg trumpeted in the government’s first massive “scare” strike of the campaign.
“This is equivalent to an extra yearly household tax bill of $5,400 within a decade.”
The income tax cuts were announced in last week’s budget but they are not yet legislated.
The program’s first stage has bipartisan support (though Labor would augment it for low income earners) and so can be considered settled policy.
The second and third stages are way into the future. Their cost is mostly outside the forward estimates.
Both stages are to start after the election following this one – that is due in the first half of 2022. Stage 2 is set be begin in 2022-23 and stage 3 in 2024-25.
Former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello last week was scathing about the practice of making tax promises stretching into the never never.
“We’ve stopped promising things for the year ahead, we’ve stopped promising things for the next term, we’ve stopped promising things for the term after the term, even. We’re promising things in the term after the term after the term,” Costello said.
“The tax scales in 2024 won’t be decided in this election. They’ll be decided in the election after it and the election after that.”
These stages may or may not come to pass if Scott Morrison is re-elected. There’s no guarantee they’d be accepted by the Senate – and no knowing what the government’s attitude would be if they weren’t.
Remember what occurred with the long-term tax cuts for big business included in the wider company tax cut package the Turnbull government unveiled in the 2016 pre-election budget.
It couldn’t win Senate approval for them, although deals were done to pass the cuts for small and medium sized companies. Finally, last year the government dropped its commitment to give relief to large companies.
The Coalition in this instance is guilty of a try on, to inflate the size of the target in its tax scare against the ALP.
This comes ahead of what will be many scares from both sides. The media and the voting public should regard them sceptically – just as people should have been sceptical of Labor’s Mediscare last time.
Treasury as recently as last week told Senate estimates that it doesn’t cost opposition policies. But this can be got around by the government having the department cost an “alternative” policy, a distinction without a difference.
When questioned on Friday, Frydenberg invoked the precedent of former treasurer Wayne Swan doing such things. It is not often the Liberals lean on “Swannie” as a crutch.
Looked at any which way this is a very unfortunate use of Treasury.
Of course the very basic calculation could have been done in Frydenberg’s office. But being able to say it was a “Treasury” number gives the scare a more authoritative stamp.
The idea is to suggest it is a non-political calculation – when the whole thing is very political.
Reportedly Treasury was also asked to do some costings on Labor’s climate change policy – another scare which is still in the pipeline.
It would be interesting to know if there was any private push back from Treasury about the government’s requests.
The incident just reinforces Labor’s view about the government’s politicisation of Treasury.
In Labor’s opinion this reached a peak with the appointment of Phil Gaetjens- Morrison’s chief-of-staff when he was treasurer – as secretary of the department.
Labor has already flagged that it would remove Gaetjens if it wins the election, if he didn’t resign first.
In response to the Bowen complaint, Gaetjens wrote back on Friday, saying Treasury had responded to requests before the “caretaker” period from the Treasurer’s office “outlining a number of policies to be costed with details and specifications also provided” – these “made no reference to the Opposition”.
“We were not asked to cost another party’s policies and would not do so,” he wrote.
Treasury did the costings but did not take account of the interactions between the individual policies, so didn’t provide a total, Gaetjens said.
But Frydenberg did give a total – and attributed that total to Treasury.
Bowen seized on this to lambast the government, and promise a Labor one would restore Treasury “to its rightful place as the nation’s pre-eminent economic agency”.
Incidentally the tax costings row has a nice twist. One of those who put Bowen in his place in 2013 was Martin Parkinson, then secretary of Treasury, a recipients of a Bowen letter on Friday.
Josh Frydenberg is highly ambitious – in the fashionable jargon, you’d call him a “forward-leaning” politician. But even he must be
surprised, reviewing the past 12 months, at where he is, given where he was.
Mid last year he was working up the National Energy Guarantee for the Turnbull government. By August that had imploded, decapitating the then prime minister but catapulting Frydenberg into the treasurership.
Great job. Just an unfortunate time to have it. Rather a parallel with the situation of Chris Bowen, appointed treasurer in the ill-fated second Rudd government, and now Frydenberg’s opposite number.
As Scott Morrison is trying to persuade people that voting Labor will land them in a recession (he is careful with the wording but that’s his thrust) Frydenberg this week had to counter the economic
pointy-heads seizing on the latest national accounts as showing a “per capita recession”.
To put this notion in simple terms, the low December quarter growth
rate (0.2%) when looked at against population, meant that on a per
person basis growth has now gone backwards for two quarters.
The technical definition of “recession” is two quarters of negative growth.
It should be stressed that Australia is NOT in a recession. But you
see the political risk for the government of these musings. No wonder Morrison dismissed the “per capita recession” term as a “made up” statistic.
Leaving the “per capita” debate aside, with the government campaigning on its economic management, it is not good for it to have the latest numbers showing growth slowing to an annual rate of 2.3%, though Morrison tries to feed the economic challenges into his don’t-trust-Labor narrative.
The national accounts are the last big set of economic numbers before the April 2 budget. The Treasury boffins, under secretary Phil Gaetjens, are now putting them into the figuring as Morrison, Frydenberg and other members of cabinet’s expenditure review committee work on the policy measures in a budget that will be driven almost totally by the needs of the election to be held within weeks of its delivery.
Gaetjens and Frydenberg might reflect, incidentally, that this, the first budget for each of them as secretary and treasurer, is likely to be their last in these roles – if the opinion polls are right.
Labor has indicated it would probably sack Gaetjens (who was chief of staff to Morrison when he was treasurer). And a treasurer ousted in an election wouldn’t normally expect to get another bite at that job, though Bowen looks like he will be the exception.
The stakes could hardly be higher for Frydenberg’s maiden budget. It will needs a certain “wow” factor to appeal to as many voters as it can reach. It has to avoid landmines (sometimes even small things can blow up) and dubious numbers; either could give the opposition grist for the scrutiny that will follow.
The political climate in the run up to the budget will be influenced by another election – on March 23 in NSW.
With the two sides in that state close in the opinion polling,
doubt about what’s going on in the regions and an optional
preferential voting system, there is a lot of uncertainty about the result.
In a legislative assembly of 93, 47 is the number for a majority. If the Coalition loses six seats it will be forced into minority government. At present the Berejiklian government has 52 seats, Labor 34, Greens 3, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 1, and there are 3 Independents.
If there is a big swing in NSW, it will further rattle the federal
Coalition before the budget. The only upside would be the Morrison
government might hope NSW voters had got rid of some of their general angst in the first of the two visits they are making to the polls this year.
On the other hand, if the Berejiklian government did better than
anticipated, that would give a morale boost to the Feds (whether
justified or not).
Once budget week (which will include Bill Shorten’s reply on the
Thursday night) is finished, the question will be whether Morrison
announces the election immediately for May 11, or opts for a May 18 poll.
(There has been speculation he could go even later, to the extreme inconvenience of the Australian Electoral Commission, but that would seem pointless.)
As things stand, it is hard to see what the government would gain by delaying until May 18. With campaigning already in full swing, voters will be totally sick of it by budget time and surely will want the election over as soon as possible after that.
If the government did not call the election immediately budget week was finished, this would allow more Senate estimates hearings. That week contains two days of hearings; without a poll announcement, they would continue another week.
These interrogations of ministers and officials work to the advantage of an opposition. Remember how in 2016, Labor extracted the decade-long cost of the proposed company tax cuts (nearly $50 billion) which it used to effect in its campaign?
Whether the election is May 11 or 18, the campaign will be much about the budget, putting huge pressure on Frydenberg, only months into the treasury job. Not least, colleagues will be able to look at his performance through the lens of his potential suitability for another job – opposition leader.
The week brought some added pressure on the Treasurer, this time on
the home front, with high-profile barrister and refugee advocate Julian Burnside declaring he will run for the Greens in Frydenberg’s seat of Kooyong. Burnside will be campaigning hard on
climate change. A former member of the Liberal party, Oliver Yates,
was already in the Kooyong field, with messages on climate and Liberal divisions.
In 2016, Frydenberg had about 58% of the primary vote with Labor and the Greens nearly equal (almost 20% and nearly 19% respectively).
Frydenberg’s primary vote would have to take a huge hit for him to be at any risk (and his record on the NEG has him on the right side of the climate debate). But the presence of Burnside will mean the
Treasurer will have to put extra effort into his electorate just when he’ll be stretched to the maximum in the national campaign.
David Malpass is currently Under Secretary of the United States Treasury with responsibility for International Affairs, and his previous experience includes being chief economist at Bear Stearns prior to their collapse.
Our Treasurers support is wrong headed.
No matter what the strengths of David Malpass, the next World Bank President should not be American.
After World War Two the victors designed many of our global institutions, including the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Major global institutions were headquartered in Europe or the United States, and there was an agreement that the World Bank President would be a US citizen, while the IMF would be headed by a European.
This cosy arrangement was fine for most of the 20th century, but is at odds with our 21st century world.
Trump’s unspoken ultimatum
It has been suggested that Trump would follow his usual negotiating tactics and withdraw support from the World Bank if the next chief is not American, which is presumably why some countries including Australia are likely to support Malpass.
Malpass may be a better candidate than the President’s daughter, but I doubt it.
Malpass has been a critic of World Bank lending to China and at Bear Stearns he ignored warning signs of crisis in 2007.
But it’s not so much Malpass’ dubious credibility that is the problem, but the idea that the President should always be American.
The American might not be the best candidate
Important global institutions should be led by the best candidate. The views and expertise of emerging market candidates, particularly from larger economies such as China, India, Brazil, Nigeria and Indonesia should be taken more seriously.
In recent years the IMF would have been much better led by a non-European. The decision to bail out French and German banks at the expense of the Greek economy in 2012 was a poor decision made by the French head of the IMF.
The IMF rightly supported restructuring of banks and financial markets after the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, but did not push for the same for European or US banks after 2008.
So what if Australia and other middle powers did not support Malpass’ nomination?
Better off withoug the World Bank?
A US withdrawal from the World Bank would probably see its demise. But so what?
The World Bank has become relatively toothless.
Last year China lent more money to emerging market economies than the World Bank.
And this is the point. China needs to be brought into the World Bank and other institutions more fully, not sidelined.
Problems with governance and other issues with China’s Belt and Road initiative would be much better handled by a multilateral agency, whether that is a properly renewed World Bank or a new institution.
A high profile independent candidate, Oliver Yates, is expected to run against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the heartland Liberal seat of Kooyong in Melbourne.
Yates, who lives in the electorate, is a member of the Liberal party
and a former international banker and former CEO of the Clean
Energy Finance Corporation. At present he works for several firms on
renewable energy projects.
Son of Bill Yates, a colourful character who held the Victorian seat
of Holt in 1975-80 and was earlier a member of the House of Commons,
Yates has made swingeing attacks on the Liberals, saying in a recent
Guardian article that the “party is in need of desperate cultural
On climate change, which would be central to his campaign, he wrote in
an earlier Guardian piece: “Refusing to reduce emissions as cheaply as
possible is irrational, immoral and economically reckless.”
Frydenberg had a very solid 58% of the primary vote in 2016, and would
not be at risk unless his primary vote was pushed well under 50%. But
Liberals were shocked when at the Victorian election the seat of Hawthorn, which is within Kooyong,
was lost to Labor.
Yates’ expected challenge and an anticipated announcement by former Liberal Julia Banks that she will run against Health Minister Greg Hunt in
Flinders follow the unveiling of Zali Steggall’s bid to oust
former prime minister Tony Abbott in Warringah.
The political crows have been circling Abbott, but until the appearance
of Steggall – a Liberal-leaning born-and-bred local – the political
odds were on him.
Now the Liberal disruptor is himself target of a major disruption,
with the outcome uncertain.
The House of Representatives voting system makes it hard for
independents to break through, so they are still a relatively rare
breed in the lower house. However they are more common than previously
and now the times are more auspicious for them than ever before.
Once established, they are hard to shift. So we can expect
independents Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo and Andrew Wilkie in Denison to be
back after the May election.
Banks’ prospects in Flinders would not seem high, although union-commissioned polling has been bad for Hunt, who backed Peter Dutton’s challenge to Malcolm Turnbull.
Banks presently holds the seat of Chisholm. Last year she deserted the
Liberals to go to the crossbench citing the leadership change and
Hunt had 51.6% of the primary vote last election; ABC election analyst
Antony Green says that post-redistribution he is on about 50.5%. But
the ALP vote is around 27% and Hunt seems in more danger from Labor
than from an independent.
Two of the most interesting contests involving independents will Indi
in north eastern Victoria, and Wentworth in Sydney.
Cathy McGowan famously tipped out Liberal frontbencher Sophie
Mirabella from Indi in 2013. McGowan, with a long background in the
area, and backed by the grassroots “Voices For Indi” forum, was
completely dug in by 2016. She would have won again this year.
But she had set in place a process for a community selection for a
successor and earlier this month that produced Helen Haines, 57, from
Wangaratta , a public health researcher. McGowan then confirmed she would not stand.
Indi will test whether can one independent can pass on the “community
candidate” heritage to another.
All the McGowan infrastructure is in place for Haines. On the other
hand, by definition an independent candidate must establish themselves
as an individual.
Haines will have to demonstrate her personal credentials, and convince
voters that the local area will have a stronger “voice” in the next
parliament if it has an independent than if its member comes from the
Coalition (Labor can’t win the seat).
McGowan’s “voice” has been enhanced in this parliament because of the
tight numbers. The crossbench has the crucial balance of power in
these last months because the parliament is now “hung”.
The numbers in the next parliament are unlikely to be as close which
would reduce the clout of a crossbencher.
In Wentworth, Kerryn Phelps was greatly helped to her 2018 byelection
win by voters anger at the treatment of the seat’s former member Malcolm
Turnbull. She was also assisted by the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma,
a former diplomat, not being a local.
By the time the election comes in May Phelps – who won by just 1850
votes – will enjoy the advantage of incumbency but have had less than
a year to establish herself as member.
In this contest there are two interesting questions. Will a sizeable
number of the locals have got over their rage about Turnbull, and
reassess their vote? And will some people, in a seat where voters like
to have a high flier, decide to switch to a candidate with prospects
of rising through the Liberal ranks in the next few years?
Some might say the Wentworth contest as one in which the voters are
spoilt for choice.
Wentworth voters reacted against the loss of a former prime minister –
in Warringah, many voters just want their ex-PM to shuffle off.
Steggall, an former Olympian (in winter sports) and a barrister, will run hard on climate change, and attack Abbott’s views in general as out of touch with his constituents. She says Warringah is conservative economically and financially but progressive socially (as shown by a 75% yes vote on same-sex marriage).
As with Indi – although in a much less developed form – there is a
community group backing Steggall – and she says she wants to give
people in Warringah “a real choice for a voice”.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will warn that Australia must navigate difficult
economic currents in coming days, when he delivers a major speech
setting the government’s policy in a framework of “values” and “beliefs”.
Addressing the Sydney Institute on Tuesday, Frydenberg will say the
strength of the Australian economy “is not only helping us deliver
record spending on the essential services people need, but provides
the flexibility and resilience to respond to challenges as they
As it approaches the election, the government’s economic pitch on its
record is being linked to the argument that the Coalition is the best
manager in uncertain times.
In the speech, titled “Creating opportunity and encouraging
aspiration”, extracts of which were released ahead of delivery,
Frydenberg repeats Scott Morrison’s warning that storm clouds hang
over the global economy.
“Persistent trade tensions, high global debt levels and a contraction
in growth in several key economies has changed the global outlook,”
“The German and Japanese economies recorded negative growth in the
September quarter, while China has seen its growth slow to its lowest
rate since 2009.
“Domestically, the drought is having an impact, the housing market has
softened, there are signs that credit growth has been constrained and
the pick-up in wages growth remains gradual.
“It’s against this backdrop that our economic plan with its focus on
growth, aspiration and budget repair, takes on even greater
significance as we navigate the currents ahead.”
The speech is heavy on the key place of “values” and “beliefs” which
Frydenberg says drive the government’s economic plan.
The “values” are: “encouraging the individual and their enterprise;
upholding personal responsibility; maximising choice; supporting
families; backing small business, rewarding effort and hard work;
upholding the rule of law and ensuring a safety net which is
underpinned by a sense of decency and fairness”.
These values “go to the heart of what the Liberal and National parties
are all about,” Frydenberg says, declaring they are as relevant now as
they were in the time of Liberal founder Robert Menzies. “They are in
our DNA, they define our national purpose”.
The “values” underpin a series of “core beliefs”, which Frydenberg lists as
. That the invisible hand of capitalism delivers far more than the dead hand of socialism.
• That government is not the solution to every problem.
• That fairness is achieved through equality of
opportunity, not equality of outcomes.
• That government has no money of its own. It’s the
people’s money and every dollar of tax is a dollar less in their
• That we should be optimistic and outward looking,
confident in the knowledge that our people are our greatest
• That communities work from the ground up, not the top down.
• That intergenerational equity requires fiscal
discipline as the next generation should not have to pick up the tab
for the last.
• That people should be encouraged to be self-reliant,
but know that if they need it, the safety net will be there.
Frydenberg accuses Labor of having class warfare at the heart of its
policies “from tax to trade to industrial relations. It’s a dark
shadow not a light on the hill.
“Labor is promising one of the most radical, aggressive and dangerous
tax and redistribution agendas Australia has ever seen – putting at
risk our prosperity and harmony and taking us back decades,” he says.