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What do Canada, Queensland and the GST have in common ? Give up ? Read on to find out as Hillary ‘six degreess of separation’ Bray tells all.

Is Dick Smith – producer of “Pauline’s Pantry Foreigner Free Foods” (Hillary might have that name wrong) – about to bankroll an independent candidate to run against Transport Minister and National Party Leader John Anderson in his seat of Gwydir? That’s what Hillary hears.

In the past, Dinky-di Dick has hit turbulence while discussing aviation matters with Anderson – but surely such a laid-back, true-blue Aussie doesn’t take that sort of thing personally?

Tax Reform

Compact discs have dropped in price with the introduction of the GST. One consumer was spotted Saturday in Adelaide’s leafy eastern suburbs taking advantage of the new price to pick up six – Natasha “No GST” Stott-Despoja, out with her mum.

Happy Canada Day

What exquisite timing! July 1, the startup date for the GST, also happened to be Canada Day.

What’s so significant about that? Canada, as scarred veterans of the ’93 campaign will recall, offers the textbook example of how not to implement a GST. It also offers the closest model to the GST our pig-headed PM and the Dems have lumbered us with.

Readers will recall that the GST that has been implemented is the Government’s third best option. The preferred option never saw the light of day. In the hysteria that followed the Coalition collapse in the June 1998 Queensland election – caused by idiotic preferencing to One Nation, rather than any policy failure – the PM lost his nerve and went for another model.

GST version two wasn’t bad. Fightback! had represented a dramatic step forward in policy, packaging and presentation over Paul Keating’s 1985 Option C. The Howard GST was another leap – at least in packaging. It didn’t cost the October 98 election. Instead, the Government was able to return to Canberra with a mandate.

The first half of 1999 was a period of frantic activity as the Government sought to steer the GST through the Senate before the Democrats took the balance of power on 1 July. Part of the strategy involved throwing a number of right wing sops to Brian Harradine – nothing, of course, that the PM wouldn’t feel happy with, either. Harradine was happy to accept them – but not, it emerged, to support a GST.

It was a gross miscalculation on the part of the Government and the Prime Minister. To pass the GST, he was forced to deal with the Democrats.

We now have a package riddled with anomalies and exemptions. It is a package that is harder and more expensive to administer – particularly for some Liberal core constituencies. After all the talk about the aspirational middle classes, Australia will still have a punitive income tax system that shoves people into the highest bracket when they earn roughly double the average weekly wage.

This is the PM’s tax reform. This is his result of the great deal with the Democrats – the DBT, Dog’s Breakfast Tax.

Back to Canada – and New Zealand, too, both countries very much like Australia. A GST was introduced in New Zealand under the great reforming (Labour) finance minister Roger Douglas in 1986. It had barely any exemptions. Despite forecasts of doom – and warnings of its gross inequity – the phase-in was relatively smooth and Labor was returned at the next poll.

The Progressive Conservative government in Canada introduced a GST in the early 90s. However, the Canadians settled on a compromise model much along the lines of the Howard/Lees package. They went to an election in 1993 – in the middle of the Keating/Hewson campaign, ironically enough – and were left with two seats.

What was that the PM said about a “great tax adventure”? Was it meant to be so scary?

International Image

The Prime Miniature, of course, is safely off in London curtseying to Our Gracious Sovereign Lady the Queen. But how is he being received?

The influential London Financial Times – a paper with a growing readership in the US, Europe and Asia as well as its home market – carried an interesting profile on the dear leader a couple of weeks ago. Here are some highlights for the benefit of Crikey readers:

“John Howard ought to be bursting with pride as he travels to London early next month to celebrate the centenary of the British legislation that launched his country’s federation. To an outside eye, Australia has just about everything going for it. Twelve consecutive quarters of growth above 4 per cent have been matched only once before in its history, and expansion over the past nine years has outpaced even the US. In September the Olympics will put the spotlight on Sydney, one of the world’s most appealing cities. Australia is moving more rapidly than many developed countries to adapt new technology to its old industries, and the government is implementing far-reaching tax reforms that will help business compete globally.

“Seen from within Australia, however, the prime minister is in trouble. An election looms next year in which he must defend a paper-thin majority. He is assailed even from within his own coalition by protests over tax. He faces fierce criticism over his refusal to apologise to the Aboriginal population for the injustices of the past. And this week for the first time his popularity rating in the polls sank below that of his Labour rival, Kim Beazley.

“His critics dismiss him as a small-minded prime minister obsessed by short-term poll movements, whose government’s botched implementation of the controversial new goods and services tax has put him at loggerheads even with politicians in his own coalition. His instinctive Anglo-Saxon conservatism makes him unequal to the task of dealing with sensitive social issues such as race, they say, and produces a leader who prefers cucumber sandwiches with the Queen to establishing a rapport with Asia’s movers and shakers.

“One can see why such reservations abound… While he says he is a radical reformer, not just of tax but in other unpopular areas such as gun control, he comes over as a poor salesman. Instead of looking forward, his remarks point to nostalgia for the 1950s and 1960s, when Australia was also relatively prosperous but a less open society…

“At one level, he thus comes across as a typical Australian ‘mate’, whose down-to-earth approach is in stark contrast with that of his predecessor, Paul Keating. Australians eventually found Mr Keating’s arrogance and sarcasm too clever by half. But now it seems that if Mr Keating’s problem with voters was that he had too much vision, Mr Howard has too little, especially in the area of foreign policy…

“So the enigma remains. Is Mr Howard at heart a truly reforming leader, or simply a stubborn provincial politician with a few pet projects…

“There is still every chance that the mix of economic reform and accommodation of conservative prejudice will see him through next year’s election, but it is an uneasy compromise that risks obscuring his real achievements. The danger is that he will end up underselling Australia to the world and mis-selling himself to the electorate.”

Spinning Out Of Control

The PM’s pals were telling Gallery hacks last Tuesday that the little fella received two standing ovations during the morning party room meeting. All the desperate spinning on the GST must have made them dizzy and confused. Other people at the meeting have no memory of any ovations at all.

PS: AM fell for the yarn and reported it. Thank God for quality, independent media.

Very Courageous, Prime Minister

Perhaps Hillary is a little harsh on the PM. After all, it was very big to draw attention to the fact after Question Time on Thursday that the Opposition had not directed a single GST question to the Treasurer – to tacitly admit that they’re afraid of Costello and not afraid of him.

Changing Rooms

Reshuffle rumours are doing the rounds once again – and poor Queensland Parliamentary Secretary Warren “Crocodile Dummee” Entsch has put himself right behind the eight ball with his ill-timed comments on petrol prices.

Reports have said the PM “picked up” Entsch over a wire service report of comments on petrol prices and that the little bloke “is understood to have spoken privately to Mr Entsch during a Coalition party meeting”. Er, right. What actually happened was that Croc was pulled out of the party room and given a ginormous bollocking.

Bad timing, Warren. Fellow Queenslander John Herron is one of the ministers tipped to go. Bet the other Queensland Parly Sec – our old mate Slippery Pete – won’t be straying far from the phone.

The End Of The World Is Nigh

Well, not quite – but the atmosphere in the Government chiefs of staff meeting last Monday was not all that good.

Evil, Exploitative Big Business …

Mad Bob Katter turned up on Channel 10’s Meet the Press last weekend, urging collective marketing to compete against Woolworths and Coles – presumably as part of the National Party’s ongoing commitment to the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange (to the extent necessary to preserve self interest).

Funnily enough, one petrol chain threw a lifeline to the Government by promising to pass on all anticipated GST savings – $50 million worth – straight up, rather than when they actually flow through. And it was? Er… Woolworths.

Lovey Dovey

The new pattern of kinder, gentler politics – as set by the House of Representatives last Wednesday week – has continued, this time in the Labor party room.

Left heavies “Kim Il” Carr, Anthony Albanese and Alan Griffin clashed with Deputy Leader Simon Crean over the issue of the preselection in Isaacs.

As part of the soft new political regime, rank and file members have been denied a chance to vote in a preselection. Instead, a candidate will be imposed by the caring, sharing right dominated national executive.

Our journos still seem to be afraid to investigate if factional heavies may have played a role in pushing Greg Wilton to suicide – only Michelle Grattan has had the guts to even mention the matter – and so their games can go happily on.

Fun Times In Queensland

Ross Cartmill, an unsuccessful candidate for the recent Queensland Liberal Senate vacancy, has had a dummy spit and has resigned as vice president of the party.

In true Queensland style party president Con Galtos is now threatening to resign himself if he doesn’t get his own candidate, a Jeff Baldwin, elected. Baldwin is a real unknown – at least in Liberal Party circles. What makes him interesting is that it is claimed he is fairly well known around One Nation.

Baldwin could cause some real problems for the Libs. The Nats are likely to want to endorse mandatory sentencing as policy. The Libs are unlikely to – they have already been virtually wiped out in urban areas – but Baldwin’s vote on the state executive could make a difference.

Another possible candidate for the post is prominent Toowooomba businessman Neville Stewart, chair of Groom electorate committee. Stewart has told local Libs that he has “had a gutful of the Nats”, and helped organise the state exec numbers in support of a three cornered contest in Cunningham a few weeks ago.

Fascinatingly, another candidate is John Sutherland – the chief of staff to former admin services minister David “Marlboro Man” Jull at the time of the travel rorts affair who was responsible for the downfall of the PM’s beloved Graeme Morris.

Former state president Bob Carroll is also considering making a run.

All good fun and games. Hillary hopes they can fill the spot a little more quickly than they filled the Senate vacancy.

QED ?

As previously reported in Crikey, Kim Beazley thinks the Australian’s chief political correspondent, Denis Shanahan, is a little to close to the PM’s office.

Now, Tory toady Christopher Pearson has described him as the “normally astute Denis Shanahan”.

Oh dear.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friend

What a wonderful thing it is to have friends – or a friend, at least.

After the Fin reported on the flak Ho Chi Minchin copped in the party room over low volume car imports – and published a letter from thirteen of his colleagues criticising his stance on the issue – loyal lackey and state factional colleague Senator Grant Chapman wrote in in his pal’s defence.

The letter’s length made up for the fact that it only had one signatory.

Forgive And Forget ?

What a coincidence! The latest staffer in Ho’s office is none other that one Paul Cormack – a key organiser of the successful e-mail campaign back in 1998 to vote down the tough Australian Workplace Agreement then special minister of state Ho tried to impose on MPs staff.

Also in a forgiving mood is Bob Hawke, human rights campaigner and friend of the Burmese junta. Back in 1986, at the time of the Barlow and Chambers hanging, Hawkie described Malaysians as “barbarians”. Now, Hillary’s Asia-Pacific wakil reports that the lachrymose little’un is acting as the Sydney “liaison” man for the Malaysian Olympic Team. It would be fascinating to know if money has played any role in this turnaround.

Well Connected

Public affairs company Parker & Partners launched in Sydney on Thursday with a gala do featuring that well known local identity Jeff Kennett. Great access, hey?

Going Places

What would a Chikarovski government be like? Stop laughing. One only has to look at the Liberal Government of South Australia to see how clueless nobodies run the show.

After just – just – managing to implement an electricity privatisation last year that they swore would never, ever happen (honest!), the hapless Olsen government has now admitted there are problems. There are up to five major errors in the contract – plus hundreds of small typographical errors – estimated to be worth up to $100 million to the lucky lessees.

But it looks as if there may be another beneficiary from all this, with talk that Deputy Premier Rob Kerin will be in the top job by Christmas. Kerin – whose generosity in throwing his office open to “at risk” young people at night was recently reported in Crikey – would make a wonderful stop-gap premier. Indeed, so stop-gap is the former tractor salesman that he makes Barrie Unsworth look like Nifty himself.

Even more fascinating is the tip for Deputy, Joan Hall. Hall is currently the loyal numbers person for Olsen. Before that, she was the loyal numbers person for the premier Olsen deposed, Dean Brown.

Hall, in fact, is great at doing numbers. This is reflected in her own popularity. The state executive of the Liberal Party has had to bring on the preselection early in her own seat to save her – twice. She is also a pillar of strength for the Government. During her stint as employment minister she regularly missed Question Time because of nerves – and once went sick for a week.

Their future looks great.

The Perils Of Self Abuse

Masturbation enfeebles the mind. This terrible warning comes from, of all people, the Eros Foundation.

The Foundation has been direct mailing on how to vote for X-rated videos – in the South Sydney Council elections. Most authorities agree that local government has very little – if any – responsibility on this matter.

So What Happens Now ?

The GST is in place and the Howard government can now turn its attention to its broader agenda of… of…. of…

Suggestions on a postcard, please.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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