Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett’s suggestion that
there were other ways to spend the budget surplus than tax cuts over the
weekend has raised some obvious questions, like: just what’s he up to
this time? Is he planning to seek a Federal seat? Could he have darker
motives, like destabilising Peter Costello?

Absolutely, 110% not, said Jeff this morning when
Crikey asked if he was eyeing-off a shift to the Federal arena. “I will
never, ever
stand for federal office.” Instead, the former premier said he weighed
into the debate out of a sense of frustration that the growing
bandwagon for tax cuts was going unchallenged.

“Just became I’m no longer a politician doesn’t mean that I
don’t think about Australia,” he said.
“So much of what we do is short term, not long term. My comments are not meant to
be critical, they’re meant to be constructive. Is there not a better way of
spending the money that is going to continue economic growth?”

“I don’t think anything I’ve said makes it in any way difficult
for Peter or anyone else. My comments are hopefully constructive. My comments
are designed to ask the question: ‘What is the most appropriate way of spending the money?'”

“I guess I made the comments out of frustration to see
if anyone else thought there was a more appropriate way of spending the
majority of the money given the demands and opportunities we’re likely to face 10 to 15 years
from now.”

Kennett said he’s not opposed to tax reform. He also noted that there are significant
differences between reform of the tax system and tax cuts.
(Interestingly, the former is being advocated by millionaire
backbencher Malcolm Turnbull, The Oz newspaper and a number of policy think tanks, while the latter is favoured by Peter Costello.)

“I’m not sure you can’t have tax reform in the
system you’ve got already,” said Kennett. “I’m in favour of a simpler system. A much smaller
tax act. It’s almost impossible for an accountant to keep in touch with relevant
changes.”

He said there were several areas of investment where the money might be
better spent, including the health system and in the training of
scientists and engineers, an area which, despite opportunities created
by the booms in China and India, gets negligible funding.

As if to underline the point that he’s a born-again policy wonk, Kennett
refused to bite when we threw in a cheeky question about whether the Vic
Libs should dump his old political rival Robert Doyle. Watch out for
the Jeff Kennett tax lecture at the Centre for Independent Studies or
the IPA soon…

Peter Fray

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