How closely has the Abbott government aligned itself with the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs? Crikey first looked at the IPA’s 100-point wishlist and compared it to Tony Abbott’s pre-election promises. Now, with the government halfway through its first term, we are revisiting that list.
Yesterday, we looked at the first 25 policies, including means-testing Medicare and the repeal of 18C. How do the next 25 stack up?
26. Remove anti-dumping laws
Abbott’s election industry policy reversed the onus of proof on importers, even though it might have breached of World Trade Organization guidelines. The Coalition has dropped the idea of reversing the onus of proof but is still publicly committed to toughening anti-dumping laws.
27. Eliminate media ownership restrictions
Abbott said in a speech to the IPA in 2012 that there would be no change to media ownership laws or media content regulation under his government. However, last month Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull approached Abbott with a proposal to relax media ownership rules. The changes would involved scrapping the “two out of three” rule, which restricts media companies from controlling more than two out of three platforms in any market, and the “reach” rule, which bans networks from broadcasting to more than 75% of the population. Recent days have brought even more movement on the matter, with Abbott meeting with media bosses (in Turnbull’s absence) to talk media regulation. Still, it’s hard to see Labor, the Greens or most of the crossbench supporting any relaxation of the rules. Passage through the Senate, even if such laws are introduced, is unlikely.
28. Abolish the Foreign Investment Review Board
The Coalition has promised to lower the threshold for scrutinising farmland investment from $240 million to $15 million. Sounds more like strengthening than abolition to us.
29. Eliminate the National Preventive Health Agency
The 2014 budget included a plan to abolishthe NPHA, saving $6.4 million over five years. The agency closed its doors last year, and its website says that its “essential functions” have been moved to the Department of Health. According to a Crikey tipster, those functions have actually fallen by the wayside:
“Their essential functions have supposedly been transferred to the Department of Health, but the programs that were in place have vanished. Hardly surprising when the Agency was not favoured by tobacco, alcohol or food companies.”
30. Cease subsidising the car industry
Abbott said he would 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” would be maintained. In government, the Coalition has overseen the death of the local car manufacturing industry, denying Holden extra assistance to keep them operating. While unable to pass a bill to cut $500 million from the automotive transition scheme through the Senate, the end of manufacturing in Australia means most of the money will never be spent.
31. Formalise a one-in, one-out approach to regulatory reduction
The Coalition has set aside two parliamentary days a year to remove redundant red tape. These “Repeal Days” aim to cut $1 billion in compliance costs per year by cutting tens of thousands of pieces of legislation and regulation. At the rate the Coalition is passing legislation of its own, it would take centuries to replace it all.
32. Rule out federal funding for the 2018 Commonwealth Games
The 2014 budget included $156 million in federal funding for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
33. Deregulate the parallel importation of books
This is a move championed by both the IPA and, confusingly, a different IPA (the International Publishers Association). The latter made a submission to Australia’s Productivity Commission review to make an argument for this, and the commission agreed. But the Labor government didn’t budge. The recently released Harper Review into competition laws could reignite the debate, however.
34. End preferences for industry super funds in workplace relations laws
Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced in January that the government would examine changes to industry superannuation funds, including the inclusion of default industry super funds in workplace agreements. Labor won’t support the moves, pointing out that industry funds are getting better returns for workers.
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. Before the election Abbott promised that over the next 10 years, “each year, government will be a smaller percentage of our economy”. But the Coalition’s own budget figures showed the tax-to-GDP ratio rising from 22.1% to 23.3% over the next four years, with government spending remaining at around 25.3% — higher than each of the last five years of the Howard government.
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 promised a surplus of at least 1% of GDP within a decade, but there was zero chance of this being legislated. With falling revenues and another budget deficit looming, nothing has changed.
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 Liberal MP Alex Hawke. Seems too far gone now to roll back, despite continued debate about the law’s effectiveness. 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 were pretty pleased when Queensland senator James McGrath introduced a private member’s bill to scrap the Student Services Amenities Fee (SSAF) last year, but it was all for nothing as the SSAF survived the challenge. Abbott has said he has no plan for change in the area, but one gets the feeling Christopher Pyne might enjoy killing the SSAF more than just a little bit.
40. Introduce a voucher scheme for secondary schools
41. Repeal the alcopops tax
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
While Abbott has canvassed the subject of special economic zones in the past, there has been no serious mention of this since forming government.
43. Repeal the mining tax
Took a while, but they finally got there after doing a deal with Clive Palmer to delay the abolition of the schoolkids bonus, the low-income super contribution, and the income support bonus until 2017.
44. Devolve environmental approvals for major projects to the states
Abbott is still promising to create a one-stop shop for environmental approvals, and 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 income tax debate now is centred largely on bracket creep.
46. Cut company tax to an internationally competitive rate of 25%
47. Cease funding the Australia Network
The Coalition scrapped the Australia Network in the 2014 budget, saving the government almost $200 million over nine years.
48. Privatise Australia Post
While the Commission of Audit recommended selling off Australia Post, Abbott ruled it out in July last year.
49. Privatise Medibank
An election pledge from 2010, Joe Hockey confirmed in 2013 that Medibank Private would be sold “at the first responsible opportunity”. The sale happened in November last year, netting the government $5.6 billion.
50. Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function
Despite significant funding cuts in last year’s budget, this seems a bridge too far.
The tally so far
*Tomorrow: thorny industrial relations questions, and should the NT become a state?