Tony Abbott cabinet

On election eve Crikey wondered aloud over 4500 grinding words about the prospects of the Institute of Public Affairs’ scorched-earth wishlist coming true under an incoming Tony Abbott government. Readers will recall that we found that of the IPA’s initial 75 diktats, 12% had been promised, 29% had been mooted or partially promised, and 59% were unlikely or unfeasible.

Cue the second week of the incoming government, and the highbrow press has been awash with suggestions that Abbott — despite Mark Latham’s insistence on Monday’s Q&A that he will remain loyal to the BA Santamaria school of redistribution — is preparing to embrace a “free trade” agenda (The Australian Financial Review), let foreign capital in and “slash green and red tape” (The Australian).

And the beating of the drums is only going to get louder. A prominent Oz gallery journo, when quizzed about his new role under a Coalition government after the hatchets of the Labor years, replied simply that his riding instructions were to ensure the Libs stayed “brave and true”, in the infamous words of Danna Vale, to free market ideology.

A few months after the first 75 were floated, the IPA — whose executive director, John Roskam, was likened by Abbott to Jesus in April at the institute’s 70th anniversary dinner, attended by Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart — returned with another 25 ideas to take the list of demands to an even tonne. Trawling through them, you get the feeling that while the Coalition might not be quite ready to “abolish Tourism Australia”, it’s certainly got its antennae pointed in the right direction. In this sense, the IPA acts like a reverse Workers First, the notorious Australian Manufacturing Workers Union sub-faction known for impressive over-the-odds ambit claims. Roskam is basically the Right’s Craig Johnston.

So how are these 25 extra ideas likely to fare under a Coalition court? Two have been achieved or promised, nine partially promised (or there are encouraging noises), and 14 unlikely or ruled out. Add those to the first 75, and 11% have been achieved or explicitly promised, 31% have been partially achieved or promised and 58% are unlikely or have been ruled out. Not a bad strike rate — when Abbott finally beds down in the Lodge it’s likely a significant minority will be well on the way to glorious fruition …

76. Have state premiers appoint High Court justices

The current system is an opaque process in which the Attorney-General “consults” with the states under the High Court of Australia Act (1978). According to the University of Melbourne’s law faculty, this “appears to involve at least an opportunity for states to nominate candidates for High Court appointments for consideration by the Commonwealth government”. But it is generally regarded as a gift of the Attorney-General of the day (“Roxon’s Choice” in the case of the previous government), who issues a shout-out to the legal community and then recommends a name to cabinet. In fact, as George Williams has argued, the endorsement of a particular state can usually be a kiss of death. There are plenty of High Court appointments coming up that Abbott will need to make. But there’s currently no sign of changing the act to devolve the job to “state premiers”.


77. Allow ministers to be appointed from outside Parliament

This is an idea (“a government of all talents” or GOATS) that gained momentum in the UK under Gordon Brown but is yet to really reach Australian shores. It was recently brought to the fore when Bob Carr was fingered by Julia Gillard as Foreign Minister despite not holding a parliamentary seat, drawing criticism from Peter Costello. Anti-wind farm campaigner Maurice Newman has already been selected as Abbott’s business tsar, but there’s no  likelihood of a ministry for the climate change sceptic. It’s constitutionally sticky, but then again it might be an opportunity to bring more women into the current cabinet cock forest.


78. Extend the GST to cover all goods and services but return all extra revenue to taxpayers through cutting other taxes

The GST is apparently off the table in this term of government, but a taxation white paper will likely examine options about scope and rate. If the base were broadened it would be likely to be used to pay for the government’s expensive middle-class welfare policies/bribes and not “returned”. One for the second term.


79. Abolish the federal department of health and return health policy to the states

Another pie-in-the-sky “states’ rights” idea, but the government is at least tracking in the right direction. Abbott has committed to return health funding to “frontline services” and away from “bureaucracy”. The federal health department is a major target of the Coalition’s plan to cut 12,000 public servants from the federal payroll, as likely to be recommended by the forthcoming Commission of Audit. Abbott said explicitly in March that “other questions that the Commission of Audit might ponder could include: whether the federal Health Department really needs all 6000 of its current staff when the Commonwealth doesn’t actually run a single hospital or nursing home, dispense a single prescription or provide a single medical service?”


80. Abolish the federal department of education and return education policy to the states

Ditto the federal Education Department. The Commission of Audit will ask, according to Abbott, “whether the Federal Education Department really needs all 5000 of its current staff when the Commonwealth doesn’t run a single school?”


81. Repeal any new mandatory data retention laws

A bipartisan report of the parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security released in June was critical of government plans to retain phone and internet “metadata” for two years. However, the committee recommended that decisions on data needed to be a decision of government. Incoming Attorney-General George Brandis was a member of the committee, and he said last month an official policy on the issue would be released after the election.


82. Abolish the Australian Human Rights Commission

Two days before the election Brandis pledged to “reform” the AHRC, saying that it needed to change its outlook to promote traditional democratic freedoms. Abbott has backed him in. This will occur in the context of mooted alterations to the “Andrew Bolt clause” in the Racial Discrimination Act banning the giving of “offence”.


83. Have trade unions regulated like public companies, with ASIC responsible for their oversight

Abbott has pledged to introduce legislation during the first sitting week in late October or early November, partially in response to the Health Services Union scandal. He will introduce personal fines of $340,000 and five-year jail terms for union officials, who will now have to “play by the same rules as companies”. But a new Registered Organisations Commission, not ASIC, will provide oversight.


84. End all public funding to unions and employer associations

This is presumably an outgrowth of the Howard government’s attack on funding and tax deductibility laws for non-government organisations that the IPA alleged were being used as socialist front groups to attack conservative governments. It is true that some unions and employer associations are likely to occasionally benefit from government grants and commissions, but these subsidies are partial and not exactly regularised. No official action or promises from the Coalition as yet, but the issue could emerge as low-hanging fruit.


85. Repeal laws that protect unions from competition, such as the “conveniently belong” rules in the Fair Work Act

“Conveniently belong”, which in effect mandates that a new union cannot be registered if potential members could “conveniently belong” to an existing registered union, was set for repeal in Peter Reith’s Better Pay for Better Work policy, taken to the 1996 election but was never properly dumped, popping up again in Kevin Rudd’s Fair Work Act. It is a long held goal of industrial relations reformers to consign it to the dustbin of history, but with Abbott running dead on IR pending a Productivity Commission review of Fair Work it’s unlikely to transpire anytime soon. The official Coalition IR policy does say, however, that Fair Work will be “retained and improved”.


86. Extend unrestricted work visas currently granted to New Zealand citizens to citizens of the United States

Australia currently allows US citizens access to 457 visas as a quasi-reciprocal arrangement for America’s infinitely renewable “E-3” visa for Australians negotiated as a adjunct to the 2005 Australia-US free trade agreement, in turn fast-tracked as a “reward” for John Howard sending Australian troops into Iraq after September 11. But there are no Coalition plans to extend that reciprocity further — and if there were, unrestricted access would presumably need to be neogtiated for Australians in the US.


87. Negotiate and sign free trade agreements with Australia’s largest trading partners, including China, India, Japan and South Korea

The Australian government has been locked in torturous negotiations with China for eight years over its planned free trade agreement, but it seems agreement will only be reached if Canberra gives up on improved access to sugar, wool and banks. In 2011, Abbott was lukewarm over a Chinese FTA, suggesting he was more likely to pursue agreements with “Anglosphere” democracies like India and Japan. Negotiations with India commenced in May 2011. Upbeat Trade Minister Andrew Robb will pursue the agreements — Abbott said on Monday that there was a “disappointing lack of progress” on trade under the Labor government. Free trade negotiations with South Korea commenced in March 2009, but the process has slowed to a dribble, despite fresh impetus from talks in Seoul in July.


88. Restore fundamental legal rights to all existing Commonwealth legislation such as the right to silence and the presumption of innocence

In 2011, the High Court trashed hundreds of years of legal tradition in overturning the right of a wife to silence when giving evidence against her spouse, a move that was slammed by the Council for Civil Liberties. Since then, the NSW and Victorian Coalition governments have attacked both the right to silence and the presumption of innocence with new invasive laws. At the Commonwealth level during the 2012 parliamentary sitting year, eight acts were asked that nullify those rights, the IPA says. Security and other agencies are now running round with significant coercive powers. Interestingly, some of that coercion is likely to re-arise with the Coalition’s plan to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission. But Chris Berg has yet to join the campaign against this punitive farrago.


89. Adhere to section 51(xxxi) of the constitution by not taking or diminishing anyone’s property without proper compensation

Nice hat-tip to the ongoing relevance of The Castle here. The IPA could be referring to the High Court’s decision to strike down British American Tobacco’s argument that it was owed compensation on “just terms” for the stripping of its intellectual property through the introduction of plain packaging. Other troubling cases, according to ideological bedfellows the Samuel Griffith Society, include the Queensland Wild Rivers legislation, the allocation of water entitlements, and acquisition for the purposes of urban redevelopment. The Coalition didn’t oppose Labor’s plain packaging laws in Parliament but has been vocal about changes to Wild Rivers.


90. Repeal legislative restrictions on the use of nuclear power

Before the 2010 election Abbott said nucelar was “the only realistic way” to cut greenhouse gas emissions. After Fukushima in 2011, Julie Bishop continued to suggest nuclear was the best clean power source even while Abbott claimed the Coalition had “no policy” on the issue. Barnaby Joyce once reckoned uranium needed to be exploited domestically. But the Coalition have been opposed to domestic nuclear power since the 2007 election, and this is unlikely to change until radioactive sushi recedes from the world’s memory bank.


91. Allow full competition on all foreign air routes

Given that the regulation of international air transport comprises a complex web of 3500 bilateral agreements that set rules over which airlines can fly where, the goal of “full competition” would appear to require a long and continuous process of unpicking. Air India has started flying Sydney-Delhi again after 16 years, but the ACCC — and the Libs — are highly unlikely to relinquish regulation without the establishment of some kind of global meta-deregulation body.  The Coalition released its $6 million aviation policy before the election, which pledged “continued promotion of aviation liberalisation while protecting the national interest”. Not exactly full competition.


92. Abolish the Medicare levy surcharge

The IPA are as at one with the Greens on the merits of the 1% Medicare levy surcharge. The levy was introduced by the Hawke government in 1984 at 1% of taxable income, increased to 1.25%, before John Howard bumped it up again in 1996 to pay for the Port Arthur gun buyback scheme. In 1997 Howard introduced the levy surcharge for people with incomes over $100,000 who didn’t have private health insurance, in conjunction with 1999’s uncapped private health insurance rebate. In May, Julia Gillard announced the surcharge would be increased by 0.5 points to pay for the NDIS.  Tony Abbott agreed.


93. Abolish the luxury car tax

In a speech to the Institute of Chartered Accountants 2012, Treasurer Joe Hockey sledged the Rudd government’s raising of the luxury car tax rate from 25% to 33% for vehicles costing over $60,000. Of course it was John Howard who introduced the luxury tax in 2000. Before the election, Tony Abbott railed against Labor’s crackdown on fringe benefit tax loopholes for cars, but there was nothing about his father figure’s impost.


94. Halve the number of days Parliament sits to reduce the amount of legislation passed

Christopher Pyne wants to do the opposite, supposedly to properly scrutinise legislation.


95. Abolish Tourism Australia and cease subsidising the tourism industry

Under its tourism policy released just before polling day, the Coalition announced that responsibility for domestic tourism would be returned to the states. There will be no “tourism minister” in cabinet. Trade Minister Andrew Robb will be in charge of international tourism, while Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane will look after the domestic side. Total funding will be mostly retained, and tourism operators will enjoy general corporate tax cuts, but it’s still a round-the-world journey with multiple stopovers to full abolition.


96. Make all government payments to external parties publicly available, including the terms and conditions of those payments

Current federal portal AusTender annoyingly requires registration, and it certainly doesn’t contain all payments or include sufficient detail. Dovetails with diktat number 37 — “Force government agencies to put all of their spending online in a searchable database.”


97. Abandon plans to restrict foreign investment in Australia’s agricultural industry

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce will fight hard on this, setting up a collision course with Trade Minister Andrew Robb. As Crikey noted in relation to diktat 28, “Abolish the Foreign Investment Review Board”, a reverse trend is evident: the Coalition would lower the threshold for scrutinising investment – from $244 million to $15 million – alongside a register of foreign land purchases.


98. Cease the practice of setting up government-funded lobby groups, such as YouMeUnity, which uses taxpayer funds to campaign to change the Australian constitution

Might be on solid ground generally, especially with Campbell Newman recently banning Queensland groups that receive more that 50% of their funding from lobbying to change the law. But Abbott tweets like this one are a terrible, terrible sign.


99. Rule out the introduction of mandatory pre-commitment for electronic gaming machines



100. Abolish the four pillars policy, which prevents Australia’s major banks from merging

Wayne Swan challenged Joe Hockey to rule out the abolition of four pillars in April, but Hockey responded that he was a “rolled gold” defender of the scheme, and later tweeted that there would be “no change” under a Coalition government. The terms of reference for Hockey’s root-and-branch Son of Wallis review of the financial system are due in December, but you’d have to wager that “four pillars” won’t be included.


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