Features Australia

Albo explodes my Guffometer

Voters beware

5 February 2022

9:00 AM

5 February 2022

9:00 AM

It’s hardly surprising that Albo and his team of aspiring ministers have decided on a small-target strategy when it comes to winning the next election. Lots of guff, worthy-sounding rhetoric and some spending proposals – and Bob’s your uncle. (Not to be confused with Bob Hawke, another Bob.) Absolutely nothing to frighten the horses (aka voters).

Judged by Graham Young’s thoughtful analysis published in this magazine recently, Albo and his mates look to be on a winner. By closing the gap between Labor and the government on most issues and emphasising the weaknesses (and annoying features) of the government’s response to Covid – even if they have been mainly the fault of state governments – it’s entirely possible that a sufficient number of seats will change hands for Labor to form government.

The public housing lad who led a rent strike all those years ago will have made it to the top and thereby fulfilled his one purpose in life – to fight and defeat the Tories. Of course, whether or not he will make a half-decent prime minister remains to be seen, but his pathway to the Lodge is at least possible to envisage at this stage.

Mind you, the government has assisted in narrowing the gap between itself and Labor. By committing to net zero emissions by 2050 – ironically, just at the same time the energy crisis in Europe was emerging – it all of sudden became much easier for Labor to fashion a climate policy that, at least on the face of it, looks quite like the government’s policy.

Sure, the numbers look a bit different and there are all those billions for new taxpayer-funded transmission lines under Labor. But both parties are official signatories to the NZE 2050 club, so voters may simply decide that the climate policies of the two major parties are quite similar in reality.

The broader point is that the quality of government and the quality of opposition are not unrelated. Had the performance of the Morrison government been better (and had it actually acted according to conservative values), the performance of the opposition would, in all likelihood, have been better.

But let’s get back to Albo’s guff. Can I tell you that my Guffometer is recording extremely high values as Albo takes to the stage at the National Press Club and pens an op-ed or two?

Evidently, the problematic issue of productivity is going to be solved by holding a Jobs Summit. All the usual suspects will be invited – the trade unions, employer associations, members of ‘civil society’ (who doesn’t love a bit of civil society?), selected celebs – to get together to chinwag about productivity. It will even be broadcast on the ABC.

There will be a gazillion column inches written about this historic event – OK, Labor has always loved a summit, including the less than memorable 2020 shindig – by the progressive press.

Evidently, ‘cooperation and collaboration work’, according to Albo. No doubt, some great ideas will come out of the jamboree – higher wages all around, more government spending, an interpretive centre in Canberra illustrating productivity concepts (cost around several hundred million dollars), among others.

Albo has some other really inspiring ideas beyond productivity, like taxpayers buying a number of ships to give jobs to members of the Maritime Union of Australia, free RATS for all (of course) and free TAFE training for anyone who can be bothered to turn up (on the first day at least).

To be sure, the Victorian evidence is that free – no charge, at least – TAFE training is extremely wasteful, with the vast majority of students never completing their courses. But it sounds good – a sentence with training and free in it. But Albo is seeking to encourage voters to feel positive and use their imaginations to believe that ‘Australia has a great future ahead’ – one of his favourite phrases.

Reform of the federation is also going to occur under a Labor government – pause for laughter here – because Albo believes in cooperation and not coercion and he will even negotiate with Tory premiers.

I’m particularly keen on his embrace of fast trains – or is that very fast trains? – that Albo clearly regards as vote winning stuff. Evidently, there is going to be a fast – read: not slow – train between Sydney and the Hunter Valley. Labor has already committed $500 million to the project – OK, Labor is not in office but providing a dollar figure makes this commitment seem almost genuine.

The real trouble is that $500 million will get you about 1½ kilometers from Central Station. What with mountains and rivers to cross and the need for a completely new line, we are talking many billions of dollars and many years. But what the heck. There are seats in the Hunter that must be held.

Unsurprisingly, Labor is foreshadowing a spending spree using taxpayer money, following on from the example provided by the person who they hope will be the outgoing treasurer. There will be more dollars – OK, many millions of dollars – for the NBN, domestic violence workers, ventilation and air purifiers for schools (isn’t this a state responsibility?), childcare, Medicare, Indigenous rangers, disaster preparation and the Great Barrier Reef (of course). There will be even more before the election campaign begins.

Of course, there’s no need for Albo to outline any plan to pay for this shopping list. After all, the government has set the new rules of play – spend up very big, rack up more government debt, forecast budget deficits for at least a decade and hope that Uncle Bob doesn’t get too angry. And let’s just hope (pray might be better) that interest rates stay relatively low.

Albo has already ditched the vast majority of the revenue-raising ideas that Bill Shorten took to the last election. He has hedged his position on imposing a minimum tax rate on trusts but when the losers come out the woodwork – think here farmers and small business owners – my guess is that this proposal will also be abandoned.

Even if my Guffometer breaks down during the course of the election campaign, it’s too late for either Labor or the government to change tack at this stage.

We have paid an extraordinarily high price in the short term because of the government’s responses to Covid.  Sadly, the costs will be ongoing whichever party wins.

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