Moore / Bill’s still got scope to bite back

“Realpolitik is at the centre of the Morrison Budget, which even managed to adroitly back down on previous commitments,” writer political columnist MICHAEL MOORE

MALCOLM Turnbull has stumbled a number of times in convincing the centre of politics that he was no Tony Abbott.

Michael Moore

His personal back down on climate change and environment issues along with an election where his government threatened to undermine Medicare are just two examples.

The 2017 Budget has provided a springboard to catapult the Prime Minister back to his feet and right into Labor’s electoral territory.

Abbott and Joe Hockey demonstrated in the 2014 Budget how an ideologically conservative government can alienate a huge part of the population while looking after their business mates. What Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison have done is to demonstrate how adept they can be at meeting broader expectations on issues such as education, health and social service.

Realpolitik is at the centre of the Morrison Budget, which even managed to adroitly back down on previous commitments. For their own constituency there remains huge tax breaks for corporate Australia. However, a focus on this issue has largely been lost in the $6 billion dollar hit on the few big banks. And the mining industry is looked after, retaining around a billion dollars of subsidies.

Schools education has been a winner. Bringing back David Gonski, the original architect of the scheme, to ensure the money is spent on an equitable needs basis was brilliant politics. It ought to have secured a bipartisan approach, but Labor has felt the sting of losing the political centre.

The undermining of Medicare nearly cost Turnbull government at the last election a year ago. Those swinging voters, like most Australians (and the World Health Organization), see universal health care as a fundamental human right. This Budget removes the freeze and solidifies the position of Medicare in Australia.

Cartoon by PAUL DORIN.

In debating the Budget over the last few months there can be little doubt that the conservative element of the Coalition cabinet saw this as anything other than pragmatic politics. The same hard-headed attitude to health explains the approach to education, to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, to the tax on the banks and to accept “good borrowings” when focused on infrastructure.

However, for the conservatives there had to be compensation. School education was enough to move into Labor territory but slugging universities provided some of the clawback. Academics largely vote to the left and students, who will pay thousands more for their degrees, will be able to borrow the money from government. The issues are long term and unlikely to take on the intensity of Medicare.

“Good borrowing” for infrastructure has also allowed the conservatives to reach out across the political spectrum. By reframing the language, Morrison has sown the groundwork for justification for the $8 billion Inland Railway project, $5 billion Badgerys Creek Airport and a host of other infrastructure projects that appeal to local electors.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten used his Budget-in-reply speech to identify where Labor goes now; Catholic schools, reversing the university cuts, making Medicare stronger, limiting deductions for tax accounting and increasing the Medicare levy for higher salary earners are just a few examples.

However, there are still plenty of issues of differentiation. Labor knows how strongly the conservative elements of the government will resist climate change reform, mining industry subsidies, more progressive taxation, same-sex marriage and drug testing of vulnerable people on social services. There is still plenty of room for differentiation.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.

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