Originally published in The Australian, 6 September 2017
Our country is drifting because the Labor Party and the Senate won’t allow the government to do its job.
But even though Bill Shorten has done enough damage already, if the polls are right, he’s going to be prime minister soon and make a bad situation much, much worse.
Consider the practical difficulties that Australians wrestle with every day: Power prices are now among the highest in the world, despite a super abundance of readily available energy.
House prices in Sydney and Melbourne rival those in Hong Kong, even though no country has more available land than we do. On some measures, our kids’ academic rankings are worse than Kazakhstan’s even though we’ve nearly doubled school spending in the past decade.
Our construction costs, telecommunications costs, and regulatory costs are among the highest in the world and we’re falling down the global rankings on competitiveness and ease of getting things done. Wages are stagnant while necessities such as food, water and rent cost more all the time. Yet every one of these problems would be worse if Shorten and a Labor government were back in charge.
Not content with a 23 per cent renewable energy target, Shorten wants half of all our power to come from renewable sources by 2030. Yet power prices are already 50 per cent higher in the one state (South Australia) that now gets half of its power from wind and solar.
And there was a statewide blackout last year because the wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine and you can’t always get power from another state that still has reliable, affordable baseload coal-fired power.
Shorten will do nothing to raise standards in our schools because he thinks that more money is the answer to every educational issue. In fact, by spending more he will mask the real problems of politically correct teaching material, demotivated all-paid-the-same teachers, and principals who are expected to run schools with their hands tied behind their backs.
Shorten’s “envy taxes” to abolish negative gearing for investor property and to increase the capital gains tax will cut investment and put more upward pressure on rents and housing.
The abolition of the tough-cop-on-the-beat in the construction industry, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, will add a further 10 per cent to the costs of building infrastructure.
The re-establishment of an all-fibre NBN will add further tens of billions to the cost of telecommunications. And Labor’s insistence on even greater and faster reductions in carbon dioxide emissions will mean even more green tape and expense.
Labor is demanding even more immigration, which will put further downward pressure on wages and further upward pressure on demand for housing. And Labor’s ACTU-dictated crackdown on contractors and further workplace restrictions will make it harder for people to work productively and for business to pay workers more.
Labor has completely forgotten the successes of the Hawke-Keating years and learned all the wrong lessons from the Rudd-Gillard ones. The problem of the last Labor government wasn’t just changing leaders; it was changing poor leaders without also changing bad policy.
The last Labor government thought that governments could tax and regulate their way to prosperity and that people who made serious money were usually exploiting the system. Now Labor thinks it can painlessly impose an additional $150 billion in taxes over a decade and that no one will notice except rich investors.
As prime minister and as treasurer, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were steeped in the Labor tradition but not imprisoned by it. They understood that workers couldn’t prosper if their boss didn’t make a profit.
By Labor standards, they ran a business-friendly, economically responsible government that produced at least a couple of budget surpluses, sold government businesses, cut tariffs and occasionally said “no” to unions. Australia prospered under their policies that Shorten and Labor would now denounce as cruel.
It’s extraordinary how Labor has shrunk. Shorten once supported lowering company taxes — until the Coalition proposed it.
He used to think that penalty rates should be set by the Fair Work Commission — until it actually changed them.
He used to think that trusts were a reasonable way for a business to structure itself — until he needed to find more tax revenue.
And he once thought it was reasonable to let the people vote on same-sex marriage — until the government tried to make it happen.
And as we now know, thanks to the Heydon royal commission, he was a great friend of the workers until big business paid his union large amounts of money not to be.
Deep down, Shorten may understand that you can’t have decent communities without a strong economy and that you can’t have a strong economy without profitable private businesses, but he’s given so many IOUs to unions and is so frightened of the green left inside the Labor Party that, if elected, he would run the worst Labor government in our history.
He knows that the price of more equality is less prosperity yet still claims — falsely — that inequality is increasing to justify his Jeremy Corbyn-like retreat to old fashioned socialism.
The prime ministership is best earned by doing the hard work of working out who you stand for and what you believe in opposition. Shorten’s soft options and lazy policymaking haven’t hurt his chances of winning but they will badly damage our country under the next Labor government.