When Crikey first looked at the Institute of Public Affairs’ 100-point wishlist as compared to Tony Abbott’s election promises, we found the IPA had a pretty good strike rate. Of the 100 policies put forward by the IPA, 11% had been achieved or explicitly promised, 31% had been partially achieved or promised and 58% were unlikely or ruled out.
With the Abbott government now past the halfway point of its first term, we thought it’d be an excellent time to review the list and see how many of the IPA’s policies the Coalition followed up on. This time around, we think those at the IPA have even more reason to be happy: 20% of their policies have been fully or partially implemented; 15% remained promised, partially promised, or at least somewhat likely to be adopted; while 65% are unlikely, abandoned, or just plain dead in the water. We are assessing the first 25 today, with the rest to follow this week.
The nine victories include the axing of the carbon and mining taxes, the abolition of the department of climate change, the scrapping of Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme, ceasing assistance to the car industry, defunding the Australia Network, and ruling out gaming-related mandatory pre-commitment.
Some things just didn’t fly: the battle over the Racial Discrimination Act proved costly and changes to 18c were abandoned, while both the public and medicos hammered mooted changes to Medicare. The IPA called on Abbott to be more than just a moderate Liberal PM, urging him to enact radical Whitlam-like reforms in his first term. If it weren’t for a hostile Senate blocking Abbott’s more extreme agenda, the IPA might have seen more of its policies signed into law.
In this first of a four-part series, we look at the first 25 policies, including the Clean Energy Fund and good ole 18c.
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.
It took almost a year in government, but Tony Abbott managed to finally convince a hostile Senate to repeal the carbon tax in July last year. It was Clive Palmer and his three PUP senators who caused the most trouble for the Coalition, with Palmer appearing to quite enjoy the protracted negotiations. The Coalition’s alternative Direct Action policy currently has less momentum than a giant tortoise after a big meal, so a carbon tax replacement looks some time away.
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 2013, then-opposition climate action spokesperson Greg Hunt said that climate bureaucrats would merge together with the Environment Department when the Coalition assumed office. Following the election, the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education was dissolved, and the Department of the Environment established.
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 (CEFC) would be abolished, calling it a “reckless slush fund”. CEFC chair Jillian Broadbent pleaded with the new Abbott government after the election, citing its 7.3% return as reason to retain it. Then-assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos countered that if the CEFC was indeed profitable, it didn’t need the government’s support to survive. The recently released energy white paper reiterated the government’s desire to cut the CEFC, but for the moment it remains operational.
4. Repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act
Abbott first mooted changes to 18c in August 2012 in a speech to the IPA after he dined with popular News Corporation polemicist Andrew Bolt, who had been found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act by the Federal Court. But not even the appointment of IPA regular Tim Wilson as Human Rights Commissioner could save this policy from the scrapheap. After months of hand-wringing, Abbott finally dumped the proposed changes after realising the public — and the many ethnic communities that make it up — strongly supported the existing laws.
5. Abandon Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council
In July 2010, Abbott first said he would abandon the bid if he won that year’s election, but he was stuck with the seat for until the end of 2014. As it turned out, the Coalition had a rare public success when Julie Bishop was able to use Australia’s position on the council to push strongly for a full investigation into the shooting down of MH17, which killed 38 Australians.
6. Repeal the renewable energy target
Abbott said in April 2013 he would conduct a “serious review” of the RET, which mandates 20% of energy be drawn from renewable sources by 2020. The review was released in mid-2014, finding that the RET’s target was too high in light of falling demand for electricity. The 20% figure for renewables is still being debated in Parliament, but a full repeal is looking extremely unlikely.
7. Return income taxing powers to the states
Former Western Australian treasurer Christian Porter publicly advocated for a return of some taxation powers to the states back in 2013. However, the focus of taxation reform has turned strongly toward the question of whether to raise or broaden the GST to cover the states’ revenue shortfalls. The carve up of GST revenue continues to cause arguments: Western Australia feels so hard done by they have essentially threatened to secede. But while the fight over GST share will be bitter, the chance of actual disengagement from the eastern states is small. South Australia has also made overtures about reintroducing old taxes to help cover shortfalls, but we can’t see Abbott decentralising income taxes.
8. Abolish the Commonwealth Grants Commission
As usual, it’s Western Australia agitating for changes to the GST distribution, claiming it has a revenue shortfall due to falling iron ore prices. While Abbott has expressed some sympathy, he’s called on state premiers to co-operate. “If the states are not happy with the distribution formula, this is something that they need to be able to sit down and sort out amongst themselves like responsible, adult governments,” he said.
9. Abolish the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
Given that Abbott charged the ACCC with policing price falls when the carbon tax was abolished, this was, and remains, highly unlikely.
10. Withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol
Abbott’s government has stayed committed to Australia’s target of an emissions cut of 5% cut below 2000 levels by 2020, but is yet to nominate a target beyond that date despite a major UN climate change meeting approaching in December.
11. Introduce fee competition to Australian universities
The plan to deregulate university fees in Australian universities was announced as part of the Coalition’s first budget in 2014. While supported by the Business Council and Group of Eight universities, the policy sparked national student protests and fierce debate about the effect higher fees would have on accessibility. Clive Palmer declared that his senators would oppose the bill, and Education Minister Christopher Pyne has been struggling with a truculent Senate crossbench ever since. The bill failed has been voted down twice by the Senate with the help of independents Nick Xenophon and Ricky Muir, and with the Go8 recently retracting its support, Pyne appears to be fighting a losing battle.
12. Repeal the National Curriculum
The government announced a review of the national curriculum in January 2014, and it was released last October with recommendations to pare subjects back to focus on key learning areas and simplify the system for parents. Last month Pyne announced that the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority would begin implementing the changes following endorsement from state education ministers. Although the curriculum is being altered, the government has not suggested its repeal.
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”
There have been no whisperings around introducing this policy.
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 licence 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 channels, which could be interpreted as a watering down of the rules. But not really.
18. Eliminate family tax benefits
Joe Hockey’s first budget went after family tax benefits, introducing a change to Part B that would eliminate payments once a family’s youngest child turns six, lowering of the income threshold to from $150,000 to $100,000, and freezing payments at current rates for two years. While Labor supported the lowering of the income threshold, the Senate crossbench has blocked the remaining changes. The upcoming May budget will reveal Hockey’s families package, but he has already flagged a simplification of the welfare payment system.
19. Abandon the paid parental leave scheme
Although this was one of Abbott’s signature policies, he eventually abandoned the plan in February at the height of speculation about his leadership.
20. Means-test Medicare
The Coalition’s first budget went some way to means testing Medicare through the introduction of a $7 co-payment for GP visits, capped at ten visits a year for concession card holders and children. Enormously unpopular with both the public and the medical fraternity, the policy was eventually abandoned in March with Abbott declaring it “dead, buried, and cremated”.
21. End all corporate welfare and subsidies by closing the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
The Coalition dissolved the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, splintering it into the Department of Industry and the Department of the Environment soon after election. However, their functions remain essentially the same.
22. Introduce voluntary voting
While former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman launched a voluntary voting thought bubble back in 2013, 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. Last year former Labor leader Mark Latham also joined in the fun, calling for voluntary voting in his book The Political Bubble, while Victorian Liberal MP Bernie Finn also questioned our voting laws following the state’s November election.
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. A 2013 bill that promised increased public funding and a reduction in the donations threshold to $5000 was rejected by Abbott at the 11th hour after a day of talkback radio rage. With the NSW Liberals copping it at ICAC and Joe Hockey making the news for his fundraising techniques, loosening donation laws is unlikely to go down well a public that barely trusts politicians as it is.
24. End media blackout in final days of election campaigns
Given the Coalition cynically exploited the blackout to announce billions in last-minute cuts before the 2013 election, it seems it believes the current system is working just fine.
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 either. Abbott has expressed a dislike of increased public funding to political parties, but ending it is a different matter.
The tally so far:
*Tomorrow: Media ownership laws and assistance to the car industry