Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Politics Of Rebuilding

This week saw a return to normal partisan politics.

Having flown the kite in the media, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the proposed addition to the Medicare levy to fund the reconstruction of public infrastructure, especially in Queensland. The levy will fund about 30% of the reconstruction and will be collected for only 1 year. It will levy an extra 0.5% of income over $50000 and less than $100000; and 1%  for incomes over $100000. You can see the proposed weekly effect at 

Politically, Julia Gillard wants to ensure the budget surplus as promised in 2012-13. It will be her first surplus, with the previous and current Labor Government having rightly gone into deficit to ensure Australia did not slide in recession during the Global Financial Crisis, but she also needs to prove wrong Tony Abbott's assertion that Labor would never deliver a budget surplus. Never mind the extenuating global financial and exceptional flood-induced circumstances.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey have been relentlessly pursuing the "great big new tax" line in as many 5-second media grabs as possible, rather like Chicken Little's "the sky is falling, the sky is falling". His solution to finding the extra money is to cut government programs and other spending. Again, for political purposes, he suggests dumping the National Broadband Network. This is despite his alternative plan from the election being generally regarded as slower, and creating more congestion in the Internet wireless bandwidth.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have been critical of the levy, because it's an income tax levy. But they supported the levies introduced and imposed by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard: the gun buy-back levy after the Port Arthur massacre, and the airline flight levy to pay employee entitlements after Ansett went broke. They also both proposed an income tax levy to fund a paid parental leave scheme at the 2010 election. A levy on income tax is not a philosophical problem for them; the problem is that they are not in government, and they therefore see the need to whinge about it.

Meanwhile Abbott has also applied political pressure to the Independent MP's, with whose support Julia Gillard remains Prime Minister. There's nothing "bipartisan" about that, despite any public comments to the contrary by him.

Tony Abbott's negative politics, which reinforces the selfish "why should I pay more" and "I already donated to the flood relief" attitudes will be a challenge for Gillard, and Treasurer Wayne Swan, to overcome. We have just celebrated Australia Day, and given ourselves a pat on the back for wanting to help our society. To now whinge about a 1-year small levy to help rebuild our flood-ravaged physical and social infrastructure is, perhaps, hypocritical, selfish, and not the kind of Australian we say we want to be.