How many of the policies of the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs has the Abbott government promised or delivered? 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.
We looked at the first 25 policies, including means-testing Medicare and the repeal of 18C, on Tuesday. Yesterday we tackled the next 25, including repealing the mining tax and privatising Australia Post. Today let’s look at the next 25, from privatising SBS to canning the NBN.
51. Privatise SBS
Despite significant funding cuts in last year’s budget, this seems a bridge too far, but a merger with the ABC could gain traction.
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 committed to cutting 12,000 public servants through natural attrition before the election, then blamed secret Labor cuts for having to let go another 2500. Employment Minister Eric Abetz recently announced a review of the hiring freeze that’s been in place since 2013, so, if anything, the public service may start growing again.
53. Repeal the Fair Work Act
Abbott promised the Fair Work Act would be “retained and improved” under the Coalition’s official workplace policy. Business groups are pressuring the government to act on industrial relations reform, especially in regard to retail and hospitality penalty rates. But Abbott has said publicly, “under our system it’s the Fair Work Commission which sets these rates, that’s how it is, that’s how it was, that’s how it will be”. Still, a yet-to-be released Productivity Commission report into the workplace relations framework is likely to inform the content of next year’s budget. Early indications are it will include discussions on penalty rates, labour flexibility, and bargaining.
54. Allow individuals and employers to negotiate directly terms of employment that suit them
Again, the Coalition’s industrial relations reform agenda is likely to take shape after the release of the Productivity Commission’s report later this year, but Abbott has indicated a preference for individual flexibility agreements.
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 replaced by a complex system of smaller family payments related to Family Tax Benefit Part A and B.
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 yet 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
Abbott’s first cabinet was made up of 19 members, close to the IPA’s ideal number of 16.
60. Remove all remaining tariff and non-tariff barriers to international trade
It probably would take 50 years to scrap everything, but the Abbott government has negotiated free trade agreements with Korea, Japan and China — pleasing the IPA’s Chris Berg. Next on the agenda is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could further free up trade with our regional neighbours.
61. Slash top public servant salaries to much lower international standards, like in the United States
Abbott has told public servants to expect modest reductions in wages across the board, in line with the meagre 1.5% offer made to Defence personnel. However, he’s yet to indicate a strong interest in going after top-level salaries.
62. End all public subsidies to sport and the arts
The 2014 budget stripped $100 million in funding from the arts, with $38 million of that coming from Screen Australia, but the Australian Sports Commission’s $170 million in federal funding was left largely untouched.
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 debate around who will build Australia’s next generation of submarines revealed the level of feeling around this issue, with Abbott eventually having to allow local manufacturers to compete for the tender. David Johnston’s comments that the ASC (formerly the Australian Submarine Corporation) couldn’t build a canoe didn’t help the Coalition, costing him his job as defence minister.
65. Abolish the Office for Film and Literature Classification
Looks more like a tin-foil Liberal Democractic Party initiative, but even with David Leyonhjelm in the Senate, this hasn’t got a look in.
66. Rule out any government-supported or mandated internet censorship
The apparent proposal for a mandatory internet filter included in the pre-election Coalition Online Safety Policy was immediately scrapped after it was embarrassingly found to be “in error”. However, the subject entered the spotlight again when Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull mooted an online piracy crackdown that would block websites used to share unauthorised content.
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
Abbot has frozen increases to superannuation at 9.5%, and increases are not due to reach 12% until 2021. Less super but not no super, and no chance to forgo the pension. Instead, the Treasurer is spruiking the idea of letting people access their super sooner to buy homes.
69. Immediately halt construction of the National Broadband Network and privatise any sections that have already been built
The Coalition’s plan to build a fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network has changed significantly since election. Following the release of a cost-benefit analysis last August, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government would embrace a multi-technology mix to complete the project. 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”. 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. The Abbott government’s $15 million advertising campaign in support of higher education reform suggests it’s not going to change things any time soon.
71. Reject proposals for compulsory food and alcohol labelling
The Coalition seems to be going the other way, with Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane indicating plans are in the works for improved country-of-origin labelling.
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 with Scott Morrison as Minister for Social Services, it’s at least a possibility.
75. Privatise the Snowy Hydro Scheme
The Commission of Audit recommended the sale of the federal government’s remaining shares in the Snowy Hydro Scheme, which currently sits at 13%. NSW and Victoria own 58% and 29% respectively, so they would have to be on board too. No big push yet, but with states looking to recycle assets, it looks likes being a matter of time.
The tally so far
*Tomorrow: more on the GST and data retention