During Budget week the federal Coalition started the race to the bottom on the public policy debate. The really frightening thing this week is the Rudd Government showed signs of joining the race.

The big picture policies outlined in the Budget have not rated a mention. The billions going into infrastructure funds and climate change action, vast improvements to the health and education systems, are lost opportunities in a poor budget sell.

It’s looking like a case of “rope-a-dope”. Nelson and Turnbull were taking the early body blows from their lack of unity over petrol excise cuts. Then what does the government do? Slams its own head into the turnbuckle through a similar lack of discipline.

But politics and media circus aside, why would the Rudd Government contemplate cutting petrol taxes anyway? At current usage growth rates, this finite fossil fuel will propel Australia’s transport emissions from 14% of total emissions to 67% of Australia’s emissions by 2020. That will put a big hole in whatever emissions reduction target Rudd agrees to as part of his response to the Garnaut review.

What sort of a backward country considers cutting fuel taxes while allowing the states to levy a tax on employment? They are a Labor government after all. And what cut of the forgone $1.8 billion from petrol excise cuts would flow to low income households, the punters who really need a break on prices? 8% or $150 million. What a joke. The Opposition should be dead and buried on this issue but for the Government’s lack of discipline.

How did the Government get sucked into flagging a review of their luxury car tax; who was complaining about it?

For a new and confident government, the descent into knee-jerk politics this week should teach them a lesson. It is a one-way road. People want their leaders to stick to their guns unless there is a very good reason. It shows you have some vision and the ability to deliver that vision.

One of the few Ministers to shine despite the fuel panic of the last few days has been Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen. He has been disciplined and has staunchly stuck to his guns in his portfolio. His defence of FuelWatch in the face of his opposite number Peter Dutton’s puerile attacks has enhanced his standing. He showed some guts and leadership.

The only other winner from the last couple of weeks is Malcolm Turnbull. Despite his continuous lack of discipline, he at least looks fit for a leadership role for arguing against a stupid policy position on fuel excise (even though he now tows the line).

For the first time since the election last year, the Opposition has led the agenda through a cheap political stunt and a fair bit of luck. Let’s hope it’s not a sign of things to come. Australians deserve better from a young and energetic government.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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