Malcolm Turnbull’s state income tax thought bubble was promptly popped, but he’s still recycling the same talking points. In media interviews this week, the PM has called on the states to take more responsibility for the money they are spending and be more accountable to “their people”.

It’s hard to see where the Turnbull government is going with this one.

Voters expect the money they pay the Commonwealth in income taxes to fund their health and education systems and build infrastructure.

The state-Commonwealth buck-passing might make sense in Canberra — it’s true that the federal government does take much of the political risk associated with changes to the tax system — but to voters it just looks like quibbling. Today’s Newspoll found only 19% of voters agree with Turnbull’s plan to enable states and territories to collect income tax, while Crikey’s own Essential polling found 34% approve of it, with the remainder saying they oppose it or don’t know (we asked slightly different questions).

Turnbull has said, “It’s not a question of double taxation, it’s a question of whether you want to allow states to actually take greater responsibility for raising the money they spend, and so this is a question of responsibility.”

In fact, it’s a question of political risk. Turnbull doesn’t want to take the risk necessary to overhaul the taxation system — and he has just made his job a little bit harder by staking his government’s fortunes on a post-budget election.

At some point, he is going to have to face up to that challenge. As Tony Abbott learned the hard way, buck-passing looks fine from opposition, but it’s not prime ministerial behaviour.

Peter Fray

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