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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Appeasing the right is pointless

Over the holiday period, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be reflecting upon how to revive his standing with the Australian people and, with it, the electoral fortunes of his government. He will have no shortage of advice urging him to shift further to the right to appease his internal detractors and conservative media critics. The hard right is demanding he use the remnants of his popularity to implement their unpopular policies.

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MYEFO reveals Turnbull government's surplus by assumption

Monday's fiscal update confirms the Federal Parliament is not serious about retaining Australia's coveted AAA credit rating. Blaming Labor is no more a credible government plan to return the budget to surplus than is Labor's criticism of the prospective loss of our credit rating while refusing to countenance further spending reductions to retain it. While the three ratings agencies have confirmed their AAA rating for Australia, not much needs to go wrong before it is again at risk.

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Getting the National Reform Summit band back together

Growth is feeble, wages are flat, investment has fallen off a cliff, the budget is a mess and the car industry is shutting down, but apart from that the economy is doing just fine. Australia has always had a two-speed economy, with some parts hurtling ahead while others struggle in the slow lane. But now the two Australias comprise the fast-growing big cities of Sydney, Melbourne and to a lesser extent Brisbane, and the lagging regions. And regional Australians are disillusioned and angry about it – fertile ground for One Nation's nationalistic, protectionist policy prescriptions. It's time to get the band back together. Yes, it's time for a reconvened National Reform Summit.

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