• Hannah Phillips

Only Nine More Weeks until the By-Elections

If it was Malcolm Turnbull who decided that the super Saturday by-elections should be held on July 28 he may have made a strategic error.

By insisting that the election be held on this particular day he has left his government open to the charge that he’s mean and tricky because he has chosen the day when the Labor Party was due to hold its triennial conference.

Labor has now been forced to cancel the conference, a decision that will undoubtedly cost the party hundreds of thousands of dollars in cancellation fees.

The Labor conference is the biggest event on its calendar and it sets the policy agenda for the federal election.

This is where the Prime Minister made his second strategic mistake because there’s no guarantee that the agenda the conference sets will be the one that Bill Shorten wants to take to the election.

Unlike the parliamentary party, the conference is controlled by the left faction so it’s likely that the left will force through resolutions that soften the border protection policy, end coal fired power, stop the Adani mine and possibly change the opposition’s economic programme.

Malcolm Turnbull could have used these decisions to attack Labor at the by-elections if the conference had been held before they took place but now that opportunity is lost.

The explanation for Turnbull’s, too-smart-by-half manoeuvre is that it gives the government the opportunity to call a snap election in September or October if it wins either Braddon or Longman or both.

The onus is on Bill Shorten to win the by-elections in Braddon and Longman because history tells us that a government has only won a seat from the opposition once since federation.

A long campaign will weaken Labor because it will have to spend a lot on the campaign. Moreover it will have to campaign in five seats whereas the Coalition is contesting only three.

If Labor loses both the marginal seats then there will undoubtedly be murmurings about Bill Shorten’s leadership although the rules introduced by Kevin Rudd before the 2013 election will probably protect him.

The next nine weeks will be an intellectual contest between the government’s and the opposition’s economic policies.

Mr Shorten is less comfortable with economic debates than Mr Turnbull and he seems to have particular problems with the complexities of the taxation debate where explanations about the future value of tax cuts are an essential part of the conversation.

So far the Opposition Leader has confined himself to attacking the corporate tax cuts for companies with turnovers of more than $50 million.

In the light of the revelations at the banking royal commission, these are Aunt Sallies.

The mantra that the big end of town does not deserve an $80 billion tax cut is simple but devastating.

However sooner or later he will have to face up to the issue of what he is going to do about the corporate tax cuts for companies with turnovers of between $2 million and $50 million.

At the moment Labor policy only allows tax cuts for companies with less than $2 million but the cuts for companies with turnovers up to $50 million are law and it’s unlikely that the Senate will vote to rescind them.

In the circumstances it would be sensible for Labor to drop the policy but if it does then its $80 billion for the big end of town shrinks to $35 billion.

Recently Bill Shorten has changed his approach and, in the light of Pauline Hanson’s declaration that she will not support tax cuts for the banks, has predicted that Malcolm Turnbull will drop the third tranche of corporate tax cuts.

However Senator Hanson is indicating they she could support tax cuts for companies with turnovers up to $500 million.

If the government could get the numbers in the Senate, then it would probably take this and it could become law before the by-elections which would leave the Opposition Leader with real problems for his campaign to keep Braddon and Longman.

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