Tony Abbott likes to think of the shadowy Institute of Public Affairs as divine inspiration, rhapsodising in a speech to its mogul-stacked 70th anniversary dinner in Melbourne this year that its diktats are created in God’s image. But just how many of the think tank’s radical ideas will he adopt when, as expected, the Liberals form government on Sunday?
Luckily, the policy menu has already been written. Last August, in a brazen display of chutzpah, the IPA released a list of 75 thought bubbles that it wants implemented, and then, chuffed by the reaction, added a further 25 a few months later.
The links between the IPA and the Liberal Party are strong and enduring: IPA free trade unit manager Tim Wilson is a long-term party member and officer bearer, executive director John Roskam ran for Senate preselection twice and the IPA itself helped form the Liberal Party in the 1940s. Wilson and Roskam looked buoyant chatting casually over a coffee at Dilkstein’s Corner bar in Melbourne’s CBD this week, no doubt crossing their fingers for a massive Coalition win.
In a Sunday Age piece a few weeks back, John Howard belled the cat: the IPA is a Trojan Horse for scorched earth neoliberals trying to “condition the public attitude on these [policy] matters”, in other words, manufacture consent.
So, with the election campaign done and dusted and the promises trotted out, how successful has the Coalition been in assuming the mantle of market fundamentalism? And can the IPA get in the incoming government’s ear between now and a double dissolution to press its policy points home?
While Abbott has promised “no surprises” in government, many of the ideas could gain momentum indirectly through “independent” review bodies set up by the Liberals when they take office. A commission of audit will likely recommend a tranche of spending cuts and sell-offs, a taxation white paper will examine the GST and the Productivity Commission will take care of industrial relations reform that should be right up the IPA’s alley.
Still, based on a Crikey analysis of ideas adopted, the IPA might have to ratchet up its legendary lobbying skills: out of the 75 ideas surveyed, we found that 9-12% of the wish list had been promised, 22-29% had been partially promised or mooted, while 44-59% were unlikely or unfeasible. In some cases, the Coalition’s policy momentum was travelling in another direction entirely. Here’s the first 75 — the 25 more recent brainwaves will be assessed in the likely event of a Coalition victory. Send your comments and corrections to [email protected] and we’ll keep this list updated …
1. Repeal the carbon tax, and don’t replace it. It will be one thing to remove the burden of the carbon tax from the Australian economy. But if it is just replaced by another costly scheme, most of the benefits will be undone.
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Abbott has made a “blood pledge” to “take immediate and concrete steps” to roll back the carbon tax and will apparently instruct bureaucrats to draft legislation implementing the policy on day one. However, this will likely be held up by a Labor-Greens Senate majority, leading some cynics to suggest Abbott could end up stumping in the medium term for a modified emissions trading scheme instead.
2. Abolish the Department of Climate Change
Joe Hockey first slated the department’s evisceration on Lateline in August 2011. But it was abolished by Labor earlier this year after Kevin Rudd’s leadership non-challenge and its functions rolled into the Industry Department, with the Energy Efficiency component moved to the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. In March, opposition climate action spokesperson Greg Hunt said that climate bureaucrats would merge together with the environment department when the Coalition assumed office.
3. Abolish the Clean Energy Fund
Way back in October 2011, Coalition finance spokesperson Andrew Robb confirmed the planned $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation would be abolished, calling it a “reckless slush fund”. However, as Greens leader Christine Milne detailed at the National Press Club this week, advice from the clerk of the Senate said that Abbott would have to re-legislate to stop the body from making further loans. (The Coalition would also abolish the Climate Change Authority, the Climate Change Commission, the Energy Security Council and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency would have its funding cut.)
4. Repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act
Yesterday, The Australian duly reported Abbott will legislate to roll back Labor legislation that bans offence on the grounds of race and ethnicity and George Brandis said the Human Rights Commission Act may need to be amended to “guarantee freedom”. The changes were first mooted by Abbott in August 2012 in a speech to the IPA after he dined with popular News Corporation polemicist Andrew Bolt. Bolt was had been found guilty of racial discrimination by the Federal Court.
5. Abandon Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council
Australia takes the rotating one-month presidency of the UN Security Council tomorrow, having successfully been elected to a temporary seat for 2013-14 last October. In July 2010, Abbott first said he would abandon the bid if he won that year’s election, but he is now stuck with the seat for another year.
6. Repeal the renewable energy target
Abbott said in April he will conduct a “serious review” of the RET, which mandates 20% of energy be drawn from renewable sources by 2020, when the Coalition assumes office. He has been under sustained pressure from inside Coalition ranks, with retiring Queensland National Senator Ron Boswell telling an anti-wind farm rally in June the Coalition will review the target within “one or two weeks” of taking office. The government’s legislative response to the Climate Change Authority’s review of the RET, that recommended the target be renewed every four years rather than the current two, has been suspended during the caretaker period.
7. Return income taxing powers to the states
Former Western Australian treasurer Christian Porter, who will win the seat of Pearce in north-east Perth for the Liberals tomorrow, publicly advocated for a return of some taxation powers to the states in February. It’s possible a promised Abbott taxation white paper may recommend a partial shift in responsibilities, but that’s unlikely.
8. Abolish the Commonwealth Grants Commission
Abbott said in May that “we have no plans to change the GST, no plans whatsoever — no plans whatsoever and I point out that nothing can ever happen in terms of the GST without the agreement of all the states and territories”, adding that “nothing will ever happen in terms of the Commonwealth Grants Commission unless all of the states and territories agree on change”. Labor begs to differ.
9. Abolish the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
Given that Abbott has charged the ACCC with policing price falls when the carbon tax is abolished, this is highly unlikely.
10. Withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol
Greg Hunt declared his support for the second phase of Kyoto last year.
11. Introduce fee competition to Australian universities
The Business Council of Australia has backed this call, however at this address to Universities Australia’s annual conference earlier in February Abbott did not commit to it. The Greens claim the Coalition’s universities plan “opened the door” to fee deregulation, however this is not at all clear.
12. Repeal the National Curriculum
Abbott told the National Press Club on Monday his government would “review” Marxist and black armband platitudes in the national curriculum but said nothing about repealing the curriculum itself.
13. Introduce competing private secondary school curriculums
14. Abolish the Australian Communications and Media Authority
Kyle Sandilands’ support for this initiative has not been picked up by the conservative side of politics.
15. Eliminate laws that require radio and television broadcasters to be “balanced”
Abbott has benefited from balance obligations under the Broadcasting Services Act since Labor called the election and there’s been no whisperings along these lines since.
16. Abolish television spectrum licensing and devolve spectrum management to the common law
Before the 2010 election, Abbott remarked that a decision to cut the TV license fee for commercial networks was tantamount to a bribe. The Convergence Review recommended that the current system, where broadcasters pay a fixed proportion of their revenue, be abandoned and that a new regulator determine the actual value of the spectrum and charge an annual fee. In a second reading speech on the reduction in the license fees, Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham said he had “no concern” with the changes that would cut the fee to 4.5% of gross earnings. But scrapping the license system and auctioning the spectrum is something else entirely.
17. End local content requirements for Australian television stations
Birmingham also said the Coalition supported changes to local content requirements that included digital multichannels, which could be interpreted as a watering down of the rules. But not really.
18. Eliminate family tax benefits
While Abbott has been critical of Labor’s plans to scrap increases to Family Tax Benefit Part A, under the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme, there would be savings on both FTB-A and B that would not be paid while the woman was on baby leave. The School Kids bonus, of course, will be scrapped.
19. Abandon the paid parental leave scheme
20. Means-test Medicare
A United States-influenced idea that has no truck with Abbott. If anything, the Liberals are heading in the other direction — promising to abolish the means testing of the private health insurance rebate.
21. End all corporate welfare and subsidies by closing the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
Compensation to polluters in a post-carbon tax era will be scrapped, but billions in subsidies for fossil fuel will be maintained. The second part is nutty, even a name change would preserve the old DIISR’s functions in another edifice.
22. Introduce voluntary voting
While Queensland Premier Campbell Newman recently launched a voluntary voting thought bubble, this has not spread federally. It would be a boon for the Coalition because their supporters would probably be more likely to turn out to vote. State branches of the Liberal Party, especially the South Australian branch, support the shift and radical Senator Cory Bernardi has openly blogged about it.
23. End mandatory disclosures on political donations
The Coalition famously blocked John Faulkner’s reforms that would have accelerated the reporting cycle for donations and reduced the threshold back to $1000, rather than the current $11,500. This year’s farcical donations bill that promised increased public funding and reduction in the donations threshold to $5000 was rejected by Abbott at the eleventh hour after a day of talkback radio rage.
24. End media blackout in final days of election campaigns
Given the Coalition has cynically exploited the blackout to announce billions in last-minute cuts, it seems the current system is working just fine. Might be a different story in government though.
25. End public funding to political parties
Liberal federal director Brian Loughnane tried to sneak through increased public funding (see above) so this doesn’t seem likely in the short term either.
26. Remove anti-dumping laws
It’s a bipartisan hairy-chest-off on anti-dumping — when Labor released its policy late last year, shadow industry spokesperson Sophie Mirabella said that “Labor has today been shamed into following the leader, the Liberal leader, with their copycat announcement on anti-dumping”. Abbott’s election industry policy actually reverses the onus of proof on importers, even though it could be in breach of World Trade Organisation guidelines.
27. Eliminate media ownership restrictions
28. Abolish the Foreign Investment Review Board
With the Nationals and Barnaby Joyce cheering from the sidelines, the Coalition noted in a foreign investment discussion paper last year that there “is growing community and industry concern that some types of acquisitions may be contrary to the national interest”. The Coalition would lower the threshold for scrutinising investment — from $244 million to $15 million — alongside a register of foreign land purchases. Sounds like a strengthening rather than an abolition.
29. Eliminate the National Preventative Health Agency
Abbott has hinted that there would be some cuts to the 18 agencies within the Department of Health, with experts suggesting the NPHA could be in the firing line. The official health policy gets stuck into “bureaucracies” but mysteriously doesn’t finger a specific target.
30. Cease subsidising the car industry
Abbott says he will not proffer any additional assistance to the auto industry and would not match Labor’s $1.5 billion in co-payments promised through to 2021-22. But “a strong program of assistance to the car industry” will be maintained.
31. Formalise a one-in, one-out approach to regulatory reduction
This is a Kevin Rudd broken promise and Abbott, if the name of its official policy is any guide, should be reducing regulation not simply maintaining the status quo. Special parliamentary days will be set aside to remove redundant red tape.
32. Rule out federal funding for the 2018 Commonwealth Games
Campbell Newman is well on board with $100 million but nothing from the federal Liberals yet as far as Crikey could see. The IPA will hope it stays that way.
33. Deregulate the parallel importation of books
The IPA’s submission to the Productivity Commission review made the argument for this and the commission agreed. But the Labor government didn’t budge. Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson has stepped out to make his views heard. Could well be revisited.
34. End preferences for Industry Super Funds in workplace relations laws
Matthias Cormann promised last month the Coalition would “ensure genuine competition in the default-fund market”, but stopped short of ending preferences altogether. Elsewhere, Abbott blasted the gravy train of industry super funds for union officials, however former Liberal powerbroker Peter Collins will likely fight back from his position of chief lobby group the Industry Super Network. Liberal MPs like mandatory internet filter fan Paul Fletcher have kept up the pressure on union appointments in parliament.
35. Legislate a cap on government spending and tax as a percentage of GDP
Labor attempted to maintain a 2% spending growth cap until the budget returned to surplus, but this was effectively abandoned last month. Joe Hockey was asked about whether the Coalition would “do better” than Labor but he didn’t answer directly, instead branding Labor’s fiscal rules a “complete joke”. Last month, Abbott promised that over the next 10 years “each year, government will be a smaller percentage of our economy” — not the same as a budget rule and certainly not the same as a legislated cap.
36. Legislate a balanced budget amendment which strictly limits the size of budget deficits and the period the federal government can be in deficit
Abbott has promised a surplus of at least 1% of GDP within a decade, but there is zero chance of this being legislated, California style, especially given the Coalition’s commitment to massive spending initiatives like disability insurance, paid parental leave and the private health insurance rebate.
37. Force government agencies to put all of their spending online in a searchable database
38. Repeal plain packaging for cigarettes and rule it out for all other products, including alcohol and fast food
After a “robust discussion in the party room” in 2011, the Coalition voted for plain packaging, despite “nanny state” protestations from Alex Hawke. Seems too far gone now to roll back. The other two won’t happen so aren’t worth fretting over.
39. Reintroduce voluntary student unionism at universities
The Liberal Party’s youth wing are still banging on about it but there’s been no movement on this federally since the Student Services and Amenities Fee Bill passed the Senate in 2011. Would need a Coalition majority in both houses and even then the Nationals could still block it.
40. Introduce a voucher scheme for secondary schools
A favourite for critics of public education, there is no mention of vouchers in the Coalition’s schools policy. A $70 million independent public schools fund could hint at an injection of economic rationalism but vouchers remain very much a third- or fourth-tier priority. Interestingly, potential balance of power Democratic Labour Party Senator John Madigan digs the idea.
41. Repeal the alcopops tax
The tax is listed as “the number 1 reason why Australia can’t afford Labor” in a Coalition election ad listing tax grabs since 2007. The IPA says the tax didn’t work but it is yet to be included in the Liberal promise register.
42. Introduce a special economic zone in the north of Australia including:
a) Lower personal income tax for residents
b) Significantly expanded 457 Visa programs for workers
c) Encourage the construction of dams
Abbott has promised to produce a white paper and then formulate a policy on Gina Rinehart’s pet project, despite a leaked version of a “draft” paper that proposed differential tax rates.
43. Repeal the mining tax
A first order priority. Might need to wait until a friendlier Senate though.
44. Devolve environmental approvals for major projects to the states
Abbott will create a one-stop shop for environmental approvals, that could well be a state or territory.
45. Introduce a single rate of income tax with a generous tax-free threshold
In 2010, Abbott favoured a “flat tax for most” in line with the Henry review but the Coalition quickly backed away from the plan when a slug for middle-income earners was mooted. The Australian has been banging on about it on its front page this year, but as yet no movement at the ranch. Abbott will need all the revenue he can get.
46. Cut company tax to an internationally competitive rate of 25%
Abbott won’t go as far as the Henry Review, having only promised to cut the company tax rate by 1.5 cents to 28.5 cents from the current 30 cent rate on July 1, 2015. The largest 3000 Australian companies will also be charged a levy of 1.5% to help pay for the paid parental leave scheme, not exactly an IPA-approved move.
47. Cease funding the Australia Network
Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham moved an unsuccessful amendment to the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Convergence Review and Other Measures) Bill in March stopping a clause mandating the Australia Network would stay with the ABC in perpetuity following former communications minister Stephen Conroy’s balls-up of the contract negotiations in 2011. The bill became law.
48. Privatise Australia Post
49. Privatise Medibank
50. Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function
Abbott has “no intention of going down that path”, despite pressure earlier this year from the Victorian division of the Liberal Party.
51. Privatise SBS
52. Reduce the size of the public service from current levels of more than 260,000 to at least the 2001 low of 212,784
Abbott has only committed to cutting 12,000 public servants through natural attrition. Needs to go a lot further than even Labor’s inflated claims of “20,000” cuts.
53. Repeal the Fair Work Act
The Fair Work Act will be “retained and improved” under the Coalition’s official workplace policy. However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel — the Productivity Commission could recommend a shake-up. Others have suggested some soft underbellies that Eric Abetz could focus on in the meantime.
54. Allow individuals and employers to negotiate directly terms of employment that suit them
Individual Flexibility Agreements can be rolled out across any EBA term under Abbott’s IR plan, which could conceivably mean penalty rates could be traded away for the dubious “benefit” of non-standard hours.
55. Encourage independent contracting by overturning new regulations designed to punish contractors
Point 4 of the Coalition’s small business policy states clearly that an Abbott government would “resist Labor’s co-ordinated attack on the self employed”. Current laws will not be changed but there is nothing specific about overturning regulations.
56. Abolish the Baby Bonus
Has been axed, but not for stay-at-home-mums who don’t meet the work test to receive paid parental leave.
57. Abolish the First Home Owners’ Grant
The First Home Owner Grant Act, introduced to compensate for the GST, is still bumbling along zombie style with various bonuses still in place in the states. Would require a co-ordinated effort to scrap it wholesale. No word from Abbott or anyone else.
58. Allow the Northern Territory to become a state
59. Halve the size of the Coalition front bench from 32 to 16
60. Remove all remaining tariff and non-tariff barriers to international trade
Probably would take 50 years to scrap everything, but Abbott has committed to push for more free trade agreements. He told The Land yesterday: “These free trade negotiations are very important and we really want to crank them up, should we win.” A ministry of Trade and Investment headed by Andrew Robb would help prosecute the case.
61. Slash top public servant salaries to much lower international standards, like in the United States
Joe Hockey might want to scrap an $180,000 ergonomic chair review in the Department of Human Services, but he’s yet to declare war on $180,000 (or $450,000) salaries.
62. End all public subsidies to sport and the arts
George Brandis has hinted at the axing of the $8.1 million Creative Young Stars program but has backed the Australia Council restructure while “netball dad” Abbott has been out and about splashing around sports funding all over the shop.
63. Privatise the Australian Institute of Sport
Clearly influenced by the incoming Fraser government’s desire to axe-Whitlam era largesse, the call seems outdated these days. Cory Bernardi, a former rower at the AIS, still loves it. Not a good sign. The 2009 Crawford Report recommended stripping funding from unsuccessful sports; maybe that’s a better direction?
64. End all hidden protectionist measures, such as preferences for local manufacturers in government tendering
The Coalition has promised $100 million for export grants and transition assistance … but what have we here? “The federal Coalition has threatened a crackdown against union-friendly workplace deals on government-funded, nation-building infrastructure projects, vowing to enforce a strengthened national construction code to police conditions that apply to workers.”
65. Abolish the Office for Film and Literature Classification
Looks more like a tin-foil Liberal Democractic Party initiative. Best chance is a LDP senator wielding the Senate balance of power.
66. Rule out any government-supported or mandated internet censorship
Luckily for the IPA, the apparent proposal for a mandatory internet filter included in yesterday’s Coalition Online Safety Policy was immediately scrapped after it was embarrassingly found to be “in error”. If you want a filter you can buy a commercial one and “opt in”.
STATUS: PROMISED (JUST)
67. Means test tertiary student loans
No plans for this.
68. Allow people to opt out of superannuation in exchange for promising to forgo any government income support in retirement
Abbott will freeze increases to superannuation at 9.25% and would not reach 12% until 2021. Less super but not no super, and no chance to forgo the pension.
69. Immediately halt construction of the National Broadband Network and privatise any sections that have already been built
Under the Coalition’s broadband policy released in April, the National Broadband Network will continue to roll out but will stop at the node, a far cry from previous plans to “destroy” Labor’s fibre-to-the-home approach. Privatisation plans might happen eventually, although this would require all sorts of legislative hurdles first including an independent finding from the Productivity Commission.
70. End all government funded Nanny State advertising
IPA hero John Howard spent $2 billion on government advertising and information campaigns, despite a 1995 statement from the then-opposition leader that there “is clearly a massive difference between necessary government information for the community and blatant government electoral propaganda … propaganda should be paid for by political parties.” Kevin Rudd hit back before the 2007 election, saying the ads were a “sick cancer” that “undermined democracy” and that any campaign over $250,000 would be submitted to the Commonwealth Auditor-General for vetting. In 2010, Rudd backflipped on that promise, moving the decision-making to a three-person panel. Rudd’s $30 million boat people campaign continued on into the election period, in breach of caretaker conventions according to George Brandis. No word, though, on what Brandis would agitate for in government.
71. Reject proposals for compulsory food and alcohol labelling
The major parties have seemingly been silent this election on food labelling. A 2011 Liberal media release says “the Coalition supports useable and reliable information being readily available to consumers to inform choice about the food they buy and eat”.
72. Privatise the CSIRO
Not in Abbott’s sights.
73. Defund Harmony Day
The IPA might not like it, but Liberals like Alan Tudge do. Harmony Day is Philip Ruddock’s baby — the Howard government established the Living in Harmony Program in 1998, fulfilling a glorious 1996 election promise.
STATUS: NOT ON THE MEMBER FOR BEROWRA’S WATCH
74. Close the Office for Youth
Established by the Rudd government in 2008, the Office for Youth has been chugging along OK. No commitment to scrap as yet, but things can move fast in a reshuffle.
75. Privatise the Snowy-Hydro Scheme
NSW Nationals MP John Barilaro claims the Snowy “isn’t to be privatised”, despite the appointment of a new efficiency-minded CEO Paul Broad. But the NSW branch of the Electrical Trades Union says the Abbott commission of audit will recommend just that.
STATUS: FINGERS CROSSED