buyers beware .....
It's hard to have faith in a politician who plays with the truth and won't tell us how he will make us pay for his promises.
''We will be a no surprises, no excuses government … You could trust us in opposition and you will be able to trust us in government … This election is all about trust.''
Tony Abbott, policy speech, Sunday
OK, we can't trust Kevin Rudd. But should we trust Tony Abbott? Could we trust him in opposition? Will we be able to trust him in government?
Abbott has set the bar high. ''We will be a no surprises, no excuses government,'' he declares. He has ruled out any tax increases - although on a rare interview with Fran Kelly on Radio National, he refused to rule out bigger spending cuts than those to be (eventually) outlined in the campaign.
It's a message of reassurance, aimed at blunting comparisons with the Howard government and Campbell Newman's government in Queensland. Howard said he would cut 2500 public service jobs, then wiped out 30,000 of them. Newman promised no public service cuts, then cut 14,000 jobs. With the honourable exception of Ted Baillieu, recent Coalition governments have treated campaign promises as something you use to win elections, then discard once you're in power.
In pledging to repair ''the trust deficit'', Abbott is aiming at Kevin Rudd's weakest point. Last week's Age/Nielsen poll found only 36 per cent of Australians see the PM as trustworthy; 59 per cent view him as untrustworthy.
But most Australians also distrust Abbott. Only 43 per cent consider him trustworthy, and 53 per cent as untrustworthy. The least trusting are women of childbearing age; they are also the most hostile to his paid parental leave policy, perhaps because most would get far less than the $75,000 payouts that well-off women will receive.
Trust is a big call. In my experience, politicians on both sides tend to work out what's in their interest, then tell us that they're doing it just for us. What drives them is the politics of the issue, not its merits. Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott are typical.
An example: Abbott's frequent claim, repeated in his policy speech, that Australia has ''20,000 more public servants than in 2007''.
We have three data sources. The number of public servants is tracked by the Australian Public Service Commission. Between June 2007 and June 2012, it says, public service numbers grew by just 13,156. A third of that growth was in 2007-08, under the Howard government's last budget. From 2008 to 2012, they grew by just 8840.
The Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Finance track government employment, which includes the Defence forces and military reserves. The bureau says that grew by 17,800 between June 2007 and June 2012. Of them, 4700 were added in 2007-08, and just 13,100 since June 2008.
The Finance Department estimates that between June 2007 and June 2013 total staff grew by 18,753.
But 8150 of that growth was in the military and defence contractors.
Take them out, and the rest grew by 10,603. Of that, 7934 was in 2007-08, but just 2669 since, with a net 4305 jobs wiped out since 2011 as Labor has cut agencies' budgets.
There never were 20,000 extra public servants, and Abbott knows it. It is a line that goes down well with the focus groups, so he keeps repeating it. But it is untrue.
Take climate change. As David Marr recounts in Political Animal: the Making of Tony Abbott, Abbott supported an emissions trading scheme, if erratically, until Nick Minchin persuaded him that ''the only way to avoid a catastrophic split inside the Coalition was to reject the ETS''. Four months after writing an op-ed piece to support emissions trading, Abbott challenged and overthrew Malcolm Turnbull because he refused to abandon it.
''Abbott positioned himself … with enough wiggle room to put the science aside and only play the politics,'' Marr writes of his transformation to crusader against a carbon price.
Soon Abbott was telling us that a carbon price ''will make every job less secure … play havoc with household budgets … hit every Australian's cost of living … ''
Could we trust that? No. Treasury forecast that the carbon tax would raise prices by just 0.7 per cent, and Westpac economists estimate the reality was even less. Inflation in 2012-13 was just its usual level, 2.4 per cent. Most households received more compensation than they paid in extra cost.
Nothing has worked better for Abbott than his success in persuading Australians that the carbon tax would make them worse off. But it was a phoney scare campaign, nothing more.
Refugee policy is outside my beat, fortunately, because I see no solution that does not break one or other cardinal principle of policy. Either we turn our backs on people with good reason to flee their country, or we surrender control of immigration policy.
Father Frank Brennan believes there is a solution but it will take time, patience and quiet diplomacy. In his recent Barry Marshall lecture at Trinity College (on the ABC's religion webpage), he argues:
''The only way to stop the boats ethically is to negotiate a regional agreement with Indonesia and Malaysia … this would take a considerable period of time, a good cheque book, and a strong commitment to detailed backroom diplomatic work avoiding the megaphone diplomacy which has marked this issue of late.''
Abbott has recognised this by declaring that, as prime minister, his first overseas trip would be to Jakarta - and it's obvious why. Whatever new policies the Coalition tries, they will work only if Indonesia co-operates.
I hope he understands that Indonesia has 10 times Australia's population, a bigger economy, and a future as one of the key countries in the world. We need it more than it needs us. We can't tell it what to do.
The real disappointment of Abbott's campaign is that he doesn't trust us. Economists estimate the funding gap in the Coalition's promises at $30 billion to $35 billion over the next four years. But Abbott won't tell us how he will close that gap until the final days, fearing we would be less likely to vote for him if we knew what he plans to do.
How can we trust anyone who won't tell us how he will make us pay for his promises? Let buyers beware.
Tim Colebatch is economics editor of The Age
from politicoz ….
It’s time to ask what an Abbott-Murdoch government would hold for a 21st century Australia in the few short days that remain while this is still a matter over which we have some agency.
I suspect it would be a grim experiment in what happens when the keys to the executive of a modern state are handed to global mining, media and petrochemical companies. It looks like we are all about to be Queenslanded.