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. Wednesday we tackled the next 25, including repealing the mining tax and privatising Australia Post. Yesterday was the third lot, from privatising SBS to canning the NBN. And today we finish off the list, including the contentious issue of data retention.
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, who issues a shout-out to the legal community and then recommends a name to cabinet. 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 that gained momentum in the UK under former prime minister Gordon Brown but is yet to really reach Australian shores. It was most recently brought to the fore when Julia Gillard appointed Bob Carr as foreign minister even though he did not hold a parliamentary seat, drawing criticism from Peter Costello. It’s constitutionally sticky, but then again it might be an opportunity to bring more women into the current cabinet sausage forest.
78. Extend the GST to cover all goods and services but return all extra revenue to taxpayers through cutting other taxes
The government has continually said it won’t make changes to the GST in its first term, but debate continues to rage about broadening it to cover fresh food, online purchases, and other exempt items. The GST is likely to feature heavily in next year’s election in one form or another, though tax cuts look a long way off for now.
79. Abolish the federal Department of Health and return health policy to the states
The budget went some way to putting health funding back into the hands of the states, ripping out billions intended for hospitals and health programs and tearing up the 2011 health reform agreement and 2007 public hospital funding arrangements. Those agreements saw any increased expenditure split 50/50 between state and federal governments, while the new model would use CPI and population growth as the basis for increased funding. Still, it’s a fair way off abolishing the federal Health Department, and the changes are yet to get through the Senate anyway.
80. Abolish the federal Department of Education and return education policy to the states
The budget put plenty of pressure back on the states to fund education support programs but — like the health cuts — changes are stuck in the Senate. Pyne’s obsession with school autonomy indicates a strong preference for decentralisation, though.
81. Repeal any new mandatory data retention laws
82. Abolish the Australian Human Rights Commission
Abbott couldn’t convince the public to get rid of 18c even with Tim Wilson’s help, let alone scrap the commission entirely. He has instead focused his attention on going after AHRC president Gillian Triggs.
83. Have trade unions regulated like public companies, with ASIC responsible for their oversight
The Coalition’s Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill would have introduced a Registered Organisations Commission, modelled on ASIC, to provide improved oversight over trade unions and employer organisations, but the bill hasn’t made it past a second reading in the Senate.
STATUS: (PARTIALLY) PROMISED
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 former Howard minister for employment 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 due in November, it’s unlikely to transpire anytime soon.
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 an 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 negotiated 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 entered into talks for free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea, while negotiations with India are continuing but edging closer. As noted earlier, this has made the IPA very happy indeed.
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, 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 of land 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 nuclear was “the only realistic way” to cut greenhouse gas emissions. After Fukushima nuclear disaster 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. Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce once reckoned uranium needed to be exploited domestically. Abbott recently told reporters he had no “theological objection” to nuclear power, and that it’s an “important part of the energy mix for many countries”. He still thinks it’s the only guaranteed way to reduce emissions, but that doesn’t seem to be a major concern for him.
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 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 2013, Julia Gillard announced a 0.5-point increase to pay for the NDIS. Tony Abbott agreed.
93. Abolish the luxury car tax
In a speech to the Institute of Chartered Accountants 2012, then-shadow 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 has been nothing about his father figure’s impost since.
94. Halve the number of days Parliament sits to reduce the amount of legislation passed
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 would be no “tourism minister” in cabinet. Trade Minister Andrew Robb is in charge of international tourism, while Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane looks after the domestic side. Total funding has been mostly retained, and 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. This dovetails with diktat No. 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
As Crikey noted in relation to diktat 28, “Abolish the Foreign Investment Review Board”, a reverse trend is evident: the Coalition will lower the threshold for scrutinising investment – from $240 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 former Queensland premier Campbell Newman 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 2013, 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. He reiterated that statement last July.
The total tally