After a seemingly interminable mantra from Tony Abbott about no new taxes, no broken promises, no surprises and no excuses, he now looks set to break his promise about no new taxes and is in the process of making excuses about it. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
Reports suggest that unnamed people in the Abbott government have warned him of a “Gillard moment,” if he breaks the promise on taxes. Headline writers have jumped on the expression. The only problem is that the two circumstances have nothing in common.
The “moment” referred to is the Gillard government’s implementation of a carbon tax after Ms Gillard said during the 2010 election campaign, “The will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.” The second half of that sentence is important.
As I wrote at the time, the reality was that Julia Gillard did not lead that government as prime ministers normally do. She led the senior partner in a coalition government that came about from a hung parliament. The cross-bench MPs had certain demands in order to secure their support. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s how things are supposed to work. The parliament is the government and government policy is whatever can pass the parliament. For better or worse, it wasn’t Julia Gillard’s idea to introduce a carbon price. Remember those “Bob Browns (sic) bitch” signs? What did you think that was about?
Tony Abbott is not hamstrung in this way. He asked the electorate to give him a clear majority and they did, so what’s his excuse?
Well, he has a few. One is that the mooted tax increase on high income earners is a levy, not a tax. That didn’t fly though because he previously described the Queensland flood levy as, “another new tax.” Oops!
Then he suggested that it’s not a broken promise because it’s not a permanent increase, even though no end date has been suggested, and the carbon tax was also intended to be a temporary measure, adding that he never said “charges” wouldn’t rise.
The government has also claimed that because it’s simply an increase of an existing tax, it doesn’t break the promise of no new taxes, which we can probably file under “keeping the promises we really made, not the ones some people thought we made.” It’s all looking very shaky.
I’m not saying it’s bad policy. A temporary wealth tax to reduce the deficit is one of the least irresponsible economic policies the government has come up with. However, after three years of absolutism from Abbott over election promises, he deserves to reap all the ugliness he has sown. Calling it a “Gillard moment” implies that Abbott has the ability to negotiate acceptable policy.
Julia Gillard had many flaws as a prime minister and as a party leader but she deserves better than to become a byword for broken promises.
If we need a catchy expression for screaming about a budget crisis, claiming you can fix it by removing two taxes without replacing the revenue or cutting benefits, and figuring out after the election that it’s impossible, might I suggest calling it an Abbott Moment?