Malcolm Turnbull talked a fine game after his successful leadership challenge against Tony Abbott but have his actions matched up?
When Turnbull emerged victorious after the great 2015 leadership spill, his victory speech hinted at a liberal government that would finally represent real liberal values. He told everyone watching at home that his government would be “a thoroughly Liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.” A government that would be “focused on ensuring that in the years ahead as the world becomes more and more competitive and greater opportunities arise, we are able to take advantage of that.”
As a former Turnbull fan, his comments filled me with hope. The silver fox was talking about a government that would finally respect the individual, embrace the free market, and foster a competitive nation! An ecstatic visit to the liberal party website revealed that the party believed “in government that nurtures and encourages its citizens through incentive, rather than putting limits on people through the punishing disincentives of burdensome taxes and the stifling structures of Labor’s corporate state and bureaucratic red tape.”
It all sounded too good to be true. Unfortunately, it was too good to be true, and since giving his inspiring victory speech, Turnbull has been nothing but a bitter disappointment. Despite the claims of being a party that opposes burdensome taxes, Australia’s individual and corporate tax rates remain amongst the highest in the world. Turnbull’s inaction on Bracket creep has allowed the Tax Office to extract more taxes from income earners by pushing them into a higher tax bracket due to nothing more than their wage growth. Thanks to bracket creep, the average income earner will pay over $18,000.00 in tax and will fall into the second highest tax bracket.
Corporate tax rates in Australia are no better. Our direct competitors are cutting their corporate tax rates significantly, whilst our government commits to eventually cutting our rate to an uncompetitive 25 per cent over a whopping 10-year period. Compare that with the US where President Trump’s tax plan will see corporations paying just 20 per cent in tax. For a nation that’s trying to be innovative and agile, we’re really out of step.
Thanks to our PM, the once temporary deficit levy now appears to be permanent despite original claims that it would be phased out in June of this year. It seems there truly is no such thing as a temporary tax increase. Then there’s the bank levy. Did anyone ever think they would see the day that a supposedly conservative party would place a levy on our banks let alone brag about it? Neither did I, and yet here we are. The levy didn’t really affect the banks, of course. All it did was increase fees for consumers just like every other tax increase or regulatory burden that’s placed on large businesses.
Taxes aren’t the only things going through the roof thanks to Turnbull’s leadership. Government spending now makes up more than 26 per cent of GDP and is outpacing revenue. Our rate of spending grew by 5.4 per cent in 2016 alone and is set to grow even further over the coming years.
Our national debt is also pushing the limits. Taxpayers fork out $1 billion per month just paying down the interest on our debt, the federal government’s debt alone adds up to $65,000 for every Australian household, and our government is doing nothing to properly tackle this. It’s gotten so bad that the Federal Government’s intergenerational reports now show that current spending trajectories will require us to almost double taxes on the middle class by 2050.
Those who are yet to wake up and are still on team Turnbull will try to blame a rowdy Senate for his inability to get anything done, but they’re clutching at straws. Howard and Costello had to deal with a volatile Senate and still managed to get through vast cuts to government spending. Turnbull can rely on the likes of Senators Leyonhjelm, Bernardi, and Gichuhi to name a few, whereas Howard and Costello had to deal with much worse and still achieved considerably more than Turnbull could ever hope to. The fact that old mate Mal can’t get things done shows a distinct lack of leadership.
Then there is his refusal to do anything about electricity prices. I don’t know about you, but everyone I speak to is properly angry about how much their power bills have gone up over the years. They’ll go up even further thanks to Malcolm’s refusal to step away from the Paris Climate Agreement, an agreement that essentially subsidises smaller polluting nations.
Under this pointless agreement, the largest emitters are under no real obligation to make any changes to their emissions for quite some time. As an example, India, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia each pledge to more than double their emissions from 2005 to 2030 under the plan that Turnbull has signed us all onto. This agreement has no real obligations for most participating nations, but it will force Australia to abandon cheap, reliable coal plants that benefit rural and regional communities, and cause power supply issues whilst we transfer to renewables. In the interim, lower-income families will swelter in summer and freeze in the winter whilst they try to cut costs and shut off their fans and heaters.
It doesn’t just stop at taxes, debt, spending and power prices though. Despite claims that Turnbull’s liberal party believes in: “those most basic freedoms of parliamentary democracy – the freedom of thought, worship, speech and association”, his inaction over the 18c debacles of the past have shown that he’s not really committed to tackling something that is fundamental to all liberal democracies.
Finally, when he’s done avoiding the wants and needs of his own base, he’s busy making sure they look to other parties such as Senator Leyonhjelm’s Liberal Democrats and Senator Bernardi’s newly formed party, the Australian Conservatives. Just the other day, Turnbull took it on himself to shun half of his own team. In this article, our PM took a swipe at conservative members of the party. It’s a move that will only serve to fracture the liberals even further. Attempts to push out conservatives don’t make much sense to me, but then I remember the man who gave Turnbull all of his recent campaign advice. A supposed campaign guru who famously said that conservatives “don’t matter” and probably came up with Turnbull’s terrible “stick to the plan” campaign slogan. The 2016 election result speaks for itself.
I hate admitting when I’m wrong, but supporting Turnbull was a huge mistake. John Barilaro is right. Turnbull should go before Christmas as an early gift to all Australians. The only catch is that a return to Abbott is not the answer.
Brian Marlow is a Research Associate at the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
[This article first appeared in The Spectator Australia]