Handing down tax policy on day one of the campaign is a novel approach. What’s that about? Here’s one possible explanation.

Tax policies from the government in election campaigns are like budget giveaways: they’re about money in the hand, yes, but even more they serve to remind people about what a wonderful economic manager the government is, how full the coffers are and how voters would be crazy to hand control over to Labor.

Peter Costello gets to talk about paying off Labor’s debt, how terrible interest rates were in the bad old days, how wonderful conditions are today and so on.

Economics is the government’s one long suit, and the more they talk about it the better. And after delivering the budget in May, the government did appear to get a “bounce” of two or three points.

But as the graph shows, it did not happen immediately, and took about six weeks to have maximum effect. Six weeks is, of course, the length of time between now and election-day.

So that’s one explanation for the timing of the tax policy (attempting to wrong-foot the opposition is an added bonus).

We can follow this line of thought a little further. Several percentage points won’t get the government anywhere close to the line; they’ll need something else between now and polling day.

Those looking for a big Tampa-like issue need to remember that the Coalition’s vote deteriorated throughout the 2001 campaign. It had peaked earlier, about three weeks after the crisis began, as the Newspoll graph shows.


The lesson might be that emotional issues take hold quickly, while economic ones have a slow burn.

So if the government is going to get extra mileage from something big, emotional and divisive in this campaign, it might happen about three weeks out from polling day.

Maybe we should pencil in a controversial announcement for the first week in November.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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