Australia has become a house of cards

Retail sales figures released last week add weight to my warnings as far back as 2014 that the Australian economy is a house of cards. The 2014 federal budget assumed consumers would dramatically increase their spending while real wages stagnated or fell. It predicted that home owners would spend up big on the back of their increased wealth from rising house prices. That hasn't happened and now, with house prices easing, consumers have become downright gloomy. Pull the house-price card out and the whole economy can collapse. Such is the folly of orchestrating a housing boom as a substitute for an economic strategy.

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The reds are in the Liberals' beds

A terrible rift has opened up within the Coalition: some ministers are accusing Bill Shorten of being an East German socialist while others are just as adamant that he is the Cuban variety. But listen not to what the Turnbull government says; watch what it does. While the Prime Minister seeks to distract the public by accusing Shorten of socialism he is demonstrating socialist tendencies on a regular basis.

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Our superannuation system picks on women for having kids

Amid the ongoing controversies about discrimination against same-sex couples wanting to marry and the operation of the racial discrimination act, it is astounding that a grievous form of discrimination against the majority of Australians is being allowed to persist without remedy. That’s right, you don’t need to be in a minority to endure discrimination, you just need to be a woman. In this day and age, it should be unacceptable that women’s retirement incomes on average are at least 20 per cent beneath those of men.

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Reform will have to wait, again

As the same-sex marriage postal survey rolls out and the responses roll in, Prime Minister Turnbull has pledged that his government will not be distracted from the urgent task of economic reform. It is a pledge he will be unable to keep. So many questions will arise during the conduct of the survey and its aftermath that the government will spend most of its time responding to them. And with the Coalition party room so deeply divided on legalising same-sex marriage, the goodwill needed to conduct a constructive debate on pressing matters such as the Finkel Review’s clean energy target is clearly lacking. When ministers make media appearances about portfolio matters, they inevitably will be asked their opinion on statements by opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage. Yet again, reform will have to wait.

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Malcolm Turnbull's winter of discontent

If the Turnbull government is puzzled about why it is languishing in the polls, it needs to look at just three statistics: wage growth, underemployment and electricity prices. Each is trending badly against the sensible centre of the Australian community to which Turnbull seeks to appeal.Middle Australia is struggling to make ends meet, while the government is seen, at best, as being distracted and, at worst, as actively operating against the interests of working people.

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PAYG workers are copping the most pain to pay off the deficit

Are we over-taxed? The answer to this question depends on who "we" are and what constitutes excessive taxation. Some object to paying any tax at all. Typified by the statement "get your hand out of my pocket", they see the role for government as being limited to protecting their private property rights. Others are willing to pay for the public services they receive and a more equitable distribution of income or, at least, of opportunity. Yet there are objective ways of determining whether "we" are overtaxed.

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Tony Abbott's climate of confusion

Australia faces the real prospect of the national government’s energy policy being determined not by the prime minister and the cabinet but by a backbencher and his small band of disaffected supporters. As bizarre as that seems, it might be understandable if the party dissidents espoused better policies than the elected government. But they are motivated by vengeance and ambition, not by ideology or policy, and certainly not by the national interest. Contradictions and contortions are their stock in trade, designed purely to gain a political advantage over opponents within their own party and sitting across the aisle in the parliament. 

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Why our politics aren't working

To understand why political parties promote division and oppose each other seemingly for the sake of it, we need to dig deeper and appreciate the subterranean dynamics at play. Oppositionist politicians are being rewarded not so much for obstructing their opponents across the chamber, but for opposing the underlying economic system, while the system's champions are being punished for supporting it. Just ask Hillary Clinton, Malcolm Turnbull, the major French political parties and, now, Theresa May. To fix the system of oppositionist politics, we need to fix the broken economic system that lies beneath it.

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Labor shares the budget illusions

As predicted in this column on budget eve, the 2017 budget, like its predecessors, projects a return to surplus in the final year of the forward estimates. As we travel towards this shimmering mirage on the horizon, it slips away, as elusive as ever. All the while, the present generation accumulates debt to be repaid by the young and the unborn.  The surplus by illusion is facilitated by the acquiescence of the federal Labor opposition. Neither party wants to tell the truth, for it would then be obliged to say how it would fix the problem of stealing from future generations to fund the lavish lifestyles of the Baby Boomers.

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Budget does the time warp

Tonight's budget is shaping up as a scene from the Rocky Horror Show. You know, the one where the cast does the time warp. For most of his prime ministership, Malcolm Turnbull has been trying to appease his party’s hard right by embracing their policy positions – on climate change, same-sex marriage, English-language proficiency for citizenship and denial that the budget has a revenue problem only a spending problem. Having taken a step to the right since he won his party’s audition for the top job, Turnbull is now signalling the budget will involve a jump to the left – more spending, more taxes, no more debt and deficit disaster, just good and bad debt.

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Scott Morrison is trying to have and eat the housing affordability cake

A door visits a psychiatrist, lies on the couch. The psychiatrist gives the door the good news: "You're not crazy, you're just unhinged." Doctors of economics watching the Coalition party-room brawl over the use of superannuation savings for home loans are concluding the door is unhinged and those inside are crazy. Yet rational responses to the housing affordability crisis are available to the hinged.

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Better roads to growth than tax cuts

'Show us the modelling' has become the catchcry whenever a new policy proposal is floated in Australia. Economic modelling has a no stauncher ally than the Coalition government. In defending its company tax rate cut for all corporations, the government produced modelling and demanded the Opposition do the same for any alternative jobs-and-growth strategy it might like to unveil.

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No 'gotcha' changes to the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax

As with every other policy debate, public discussion on the adequacy of the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) has become polarised. Critics argue it’s hopeless at gaining a fair share of the revenue from gas extraction for the community, while industry warns that any change whatsoever would frighten off future exploration and development. As usual, the truth lies somewhere between the extremes. The policy challenge is to find a middle path. More than three decades after the Hawke government’s introduction of the PRRT, some modifications to the tax are worthy of consideration.

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Malcolm Turnbull must resist a tilt to the right

Okay, who was the Labor joker who left the internal destabilisation manual in the bottom drawer of Tony Abbott’s desk? Abbott is well past the early chapter titled ‘Pledge loyalty to the leader’ and has just finished ‘Release alternative manifesto while pollsters are in the field’. Get ready for the next chapter: ‘Campaign for a supporter in a marginal seat’ with sub-heading: ‘Alert all five television stations’. The Coalition seems so intrigued by Labor’s turmoil when last in government that it is determined to emulate it. The nation is the loser.

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We needn't wait for the US on trade

A new test of the commitment of the major political parties to globalisation will be applied in the early weeks of the new parliamentary year: whether or not they will ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that President Trump will block from entering into force. This is gesture politics at its worst. Prioritising parliamentary debate about a trade deal that the United States refuses to ratify can create the unwanted impression that the Turnbull government has nothing better to do. Yet the US Administration's abandonment of the TPP raises a genuine policy issue for the Australian parliament – where to next for trade liberalisation?

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