Labor supporters in the chamber cheered wildly at Mark
Latham’s Budget in reply last night. Crikey’s man in the gallery, Hugo
Kelly, wasn’t so sure:


Given his first chance to paint his big picture for the nation, Mark
Latham last night revealed a populist economic vision wrapped in a
deeply conservative social agenda.

Latham promises to throw more tax cuts at voters than even Costello
and Howard, while tackling youth unemployment by forcing them to work
or take up training.

In a speech that was more soapbox oration than Budget in reply,
Latham left an awful lot of blank canvas to be filled in and enough
policy gaps for a gleeful government to drive a fleet of lorries
through.

There is less to Latham’s speech than meets the eye, but in essence
it’s an expansionist and nationalist economic policy delivered with
tough love.

Promising bigger and better tax relief than the Government’s Budget,
Latham then went straight on The 7.30 Report and conspicuously refused
to rule out any families being worse off under a Labor government. And
the detail on the tax program? There was none.

Latham has a plan for our young people he hopes will go down well in
the heartland: he’ll vaccinate them, educate them, and pack them off to
work.

His $700 million ‘Youth Guarantee’ program was one of the few costed
initiatives announced last night. This consists, as far as we know, of
forcing kids onto work or training programs straight out of school.

Just how this Latham Youth program works, we’ll have to wait – along
with all his tax plans. Suffice to say, there will be none of Latham’s
slackers allowed: “Under our policy, young people will have just two
options – learning or earning. No third option of sitting around doing
nothing.”

There will be a focus on employment, education (the local public and
Catholic school, not Kings College or Geelong Grammar), bulk billing,
vaccines for kids, and teeth for pensioners.

Latham ignored the opportunity to paint an economic program. Instead
he used his half hour of national TV exposure to rehearse a few
election lines, some more strident and nationalistic than others.

  • The Coalition was “the waiting list government that’s turned us into a waiting list country.”
  • A Latham government would be not just about economic management – “it must be prosperity with a purpose.”
  • It would be “always Australia first in our national security
    strategy.” His vision was “a country as big and generous as the people
    we love”.

The numbers were big – and vague. $8 billion in savings identified,
with more to come. Seven government agencies and 13 programs to be
abolished. A Budget surplus in each year, cutting net debt and keeping
down interest rates.

A further reduction in red tape caused by the cursed Business Activity Statements and the GST.

Giving the ACCC the big stick of jail terms and forced divestment
powers “to protect small business against the anti-competitive
practices of big businesses”.

And, of course, the books. Lots of books, mailed out to new parents,
who will also receive the $3000 baby bonus promised by Costello – but
in fortnightly payments rather than a lump sum. Presumably so it won’t
be misspent by slackers.

Only one tax initiative was detailed – a reduction in the super contributions tax from 15% to 13%.

With unemployment at 14 year lows, interest rates steady and the
economy humming along, voters will need a lot more detail before they
entrust the government benches to Mark Latham.

Feedback to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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