EVERY election is a question of trust; who do you trust to keep our country safe, and who do you trust to foster prosperity. After last week’s Budget, the battlelines are drawn and this election will test the very concept of what Australians regard as sound economics: is it reward for effort that best produces a strong economy, or is it more government spending on services, health and education?
Because Bill Shorten has made so much of it, the election will also test our concept of fairness: does fairness mean allowing everyone to keep more of what they earn, or does it mean even more redistribution from the relatively rich to the relatively poor?
If the basic question voters ask is “what’s in it for me?” the odds would have to favour Shorten, who’s built an election war chest with higher taxes on investors and wealthier retirees, and an unabashed appeal to Labor’s base.
If the basic question is “who will allow me to get ahead?”, the Coalition could still win by attacking Labor’s politics of envy.
Both sides can rightly feel pleased with their Budget week.
The government was able to deliver a Budget that cut taxes, modestly boosted spending, and delivered a surplus sooner thanks to a stronger economy and better company profits.
Yes, the bigger tax cuts, and the flatter tax rates in seven years’ time, depend on undelivered future surpluses that, in turn, depend on rates of future economic growth, wages growth and spending restraint rarely achieved in the recent past.
Still, the forecasts are more believable than those Wayne Swan used to promise surpluses he never delivered.
Labor was able to use its opposition to the government’s proposed company tax cuts, and high-income tax cuts, to reinforce its fairness pitch and to promise both more spending and bigger future surpluses.
Of course, Shorten is a hypocrite to oppose the lower, flatter taxes he once proposed and to oppose the company tax cut he used to support.
But to many voters, inconsistency and opportunism probably just mark him out as a typical politician.
Of course, it’s rich of Malcolm Turnbull — who didn’t become PM by being loyal — to say you can’t trust Shorten, but voters probably think that back-stabbing is part and parcel of contemporary politics, too.
With five imminent by-elections providing a dry run for the respective campaigns, the next couple of months will be a big test for both leaders.
While four of the seats are currently in Labor’s hands, and the fifth held by a former Xenophon team member, three of the seats — Mayo in SA, Longman in QLD and Braddon in Tasmania — should all be within the government’s grasp.
And if there’s any hope to retain government at the next election, winning these seats is a must, given the fact redistributions in Victoria, SA and the ACT have the Coalition already starting from behind.
On the other hand, Shorten will be in big trouble too if Labor goes backwards in any of its current seats.
Cashed-up and confident, the Opposition has been in constant campaign mode. Although Liberal supporters have been on strike and the Prime Minister often seems more interested in scanning his iPhone than talking to average people, Turnbull shouldn’t be underestimated when his back is to the wall and it’s likely he’ll end up with support from everyone worried that the next Labor government will be the most Leftwing in our history.
Because neither leader’s position is secure, no by-elections have ever been so pivotal to our country’s future.
System fails toddler
THEY say that how we treat our most vulnerable is a measure of who we are as a society. If that still holds true, then you’ve got to despair for where we are today. Last week’s report by the Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner on the brutal rape of an indigenous toddler in Tennant Creek outlines a litany of failures by the very system that should have been protecting her. As hard as it is to read the facts of her abuse, it should be compulsory reading for the hundreds of bureaucrats in departments of family and community services around the country.
After all, she is the result of a system that preferences the colour of her skin over her right to live in safety, even if it is outside her family and her culture.
This little girl was raped so severely that she was transferred to Adelaide and underwent surgery for her injuries.
She needed a blood transfusion and tested positive for gonorrhoea. She was 2½ years of age, for God’s sake, and wore a nappy.
A 24-year-old man has been charged with her assault.
Sadly, she is not a lone case; there’s been similar sexual assaults of preschool children this year, as well as last.
And unless we ask ourselves the tough questions about how we’ve allowed this sort of depravity to take hold in indigenous communities, then there will be more little ones who suffer.
I am not so naive as to think indigenous homes alone suffer these crimes. But the utter failure of child protection services to discard cultural policies in order to save lives makes them a constant feature of dysfunctional indigenous communities. How many reports must we have before we declare this issue a national emergency? It took Malcolm Turnbull a mere 12 hours after a Four Corners report on the Don Dale detention centre to establish a royal commission. But here? Nothing. Canberra, after all, signs most of the NT’s cheques and indigenous affairs is in the PM’s own department.
Not even a joint press conference from the large number of indigenous MPs now sitting in our federal Parliament either.
They’re quick to raise their voices about Australia Day and new constitutional rights, but what about the right of this toddler to her innocence?
Of course, no minister in the NT government has lost their job; no public servant has taken responsibility. If you’re as angry as I am about this cultural cop-out, please don’t let the colour of her skin silence you too. PETA CREDLIN IS A SUNDAY HERALD SUN COLUMNIST