Kim Beazley’s decision to block the Budget tax cuts is the logical
extention of his National Press Club pledge last month to “keep the government accountable.”
And what a mess it’s got him into.

Peter Costello took advantage of Beazley’s blunder by walking into
parliament this morning and introducing his tax cuts, daring Labor to
block them. Labor now finds itself trapped: promising to block tax
relief for all Australians, with the valid argument that they’re
unfairly skewed to high income earners. And in the process handing
the government a large weapon to pound it with until the government
gains control of both houses and passes the tax cuts into law anyway.

But it’s all in line with Beazley’s Press Club plan to take the
attack up to the government in Parliament, rather than providing an
alternative blueprint for the nation. A sort of big target strategy
without policies.

It’s failed so spectacularly at the first hurdle. This strategic
blunder has caused misery in the Labor ranks right at the time it
should be united against a government facing a potentially disastrous
leadership battle. Labor’s confusion was amplified by Treasury
spokesman Wayne Swan, who prevaricated yesterday about whether Labor
would, or wouldn’t, support the tax cuts, before finally deciding
they wouldn’t.

No wonder one Labor MP bemoaned: “We’ve blown our brains out,” in The Oz this morning.

One frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon, who went on the record supporting
the tactic, gave it a distinctly “Yes Minister” spin: “The decision
to oppose the tax cuts was a highly principled but brave decision.”
Well, we know what Sir Humphrey thought of “brave” decisions.

So what will Beazley do tonight? “Mr Beazley plans to use his
budget-in-reply tonight to outline an alternative economic plan for
Australia,” reports The Australian. “This will feature a stronger
emphasis on skills development and building national infrastructure.
Labor’s determination to cut effective marginal tax rates, to
increase the incentive to move from welfare to work, will also get an
airing.” Sounds like a policy blueprint from here.

There was another story today that underlined Labor’s malaise. While
the treasurer was trying to bamboozle the media with his PowerPoint
presentation in the lock-up, and again yesterday for a wider audience
at his National Press Club appearance, Kim Beazley gave an interview
with The Australian ruling out the injection of fresh talent into his
frontbench –
Bomber ignores flak to stick with his team.

“I wouldn’t anticipate having a ballot for the front bench this year
or this term – we’ve had one,” Beazley said. “At this stage of the
game I wouldn’t be extending, I’ve got a big front bench.”

The Labor backbench is sprinkled with serious talent: Craig Emerson,
Bob McMullan, Lindsay Tanner spring to mind. Beazley’s front bench –
the one he inherited from Latham – is not so formidable that it
couldn’t do with a spring clean. Yet Beazley has locked in his
future by sticking with the problems of the past. It’s going to be a
very tough three years.