• Hannah Phillips

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s First Week

Australia’s tumultuous political situation caused the change at the top from Australia’s 29th Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to the 30th and current PM Scott Morrison last week.

In the new Prime Minister’s first week he’s had a tough time that’s not looking to improve any time soon.

The fist issue for the PM was a disastrous Newspoll that showed the government would be wiped out if an election was held on Monday.

The second was the Federal Member for Chisholm who said she will resign at the next election due to the leadership change in the past fortnight.

The third is Malcolm Turnbull’s resignation which will now cause a by-election likely on Saturday October 6 in his seat of Wentworth which on current polling could be a marginal seat from being a very safe Liberal seat at the last election.

PM Morrison however managed to get a few things done.

He visited drought affected areas in Quilpie, Queensland with Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Nationals Michael McCormack, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and Deputy Leader of the Nationals Senate Bridget McKenzie to listen to farmers, families and their communities.

He also had his new Ministry sworn in at Government House on Tuesday showcasing his new leadership team.

He also started of Thursday by having breakfast at the Endeavour Sports High School with the Clontarf Academy in Caringbah in his electorate.

The Prime Minister is taking his first international trip in the role. Scott Morrison travelled to Indonesia from Thursday until Saturday which was a trip originally arranged for the Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The Wash-up From Last Week

In what some observers – admittedly mostly from the anti-Turnbull clique – have described as an act of political bastardry, Australia’s most recent former Prime Minister this week announced his intention to resign from the Parliament, thereby triggering a by-election in his eastern Sydney electorate of Wentworth.

Turnbull critics consider that it would have been graceful to stick around for a bit to allow Prime Minister Morrison to bed in his new front bench and to articulate his agenda.

It goes without saying that one of the said critics was Tony Abbott who was in Perth this week for a Liberal Party fundraiser.

Speaking on ‘Radio 6PR’ about Mr Turnbull’s decision to retire, Mr Abbott said “I always suspected that the instant he didn’t have the top job he’d want to go. He certainly wouldn’t be the first prime minister to do that. Paul Keating didn’t hang around, Bob Hawke didn’t hang around.”

Last week when asked if he would stay on as MP for Wentworth, Mr Turnbull had this caustic response aimed directly at Mr Abbott: “No I made it very clear that I believe former Prime Ministers are best out of the Parliament and I don’t think there’s much evidence to suggest that that conclusion isn’t correct.”

Mr Abbott raised questions about his successor’s tactics: “None of us really wanted to change the leader but all of a sudden he spilled his own position and that set in train a whole series of events and, presto, we’ve got a new Prime Minister.”

Winning the Election

The Coalition has to do five things to be competitive at the next election: get electricity prices down; restore the funding to the Catholic schools; announce an immigration/population policy; use extra revenue to bring forward personal income tax cuts so that the government’s cuts match those of the opposition; and finally not frighten the horses with ideological statements about coal, free speech or banks.

If the government can accomplish these things then it will have a strong message to take to the next election.

Scott Morrison has already developed his mantra for the voters: we are on your side.

If he can demonstrate this with practical measures that improve the voters’ standard of living immediately, then the government will have a fighting chance of winning the poll next year.

What is needed to achieve these outcomes? Curiously finding a solution to electricity pricing may be the easiest to achieve.

It can be realised by persuading Queensland and Victoria to follow New South Wales in writing down the value of the poles and wires.

If this is done then the transmission charges could fall by up to $5 billion a year and provide immediate relief to consumers.

This can be followed by other policies to introduce the default price for consumers and to implement the debt support mechanism for dispatchable power.

The final measure will be to terminate the renewable energy target and all subsidies for energy generation which will cut another $4 billion off consumers’ costs.

The new Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, has the benefit of a review of the methodology for school funding which he can use as a pretext to restore the funding to Catholic schools.

This may be trickier than it appears at first blush.

The Catholic education authorities have hired Port Jackson Partners, Angus Taylor’s and Rod Sims’ old firm, to run the ruler over the new methodology to ensure that it is consistent with the revised funding plan.

The indications are that government revenue will be much stronger than predicted in the May budget when the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook is brought down in December.

While some of this can be applied to the bottom line, if the government wants to fight the tax debate from the high ground, the balance should be used to match Labor’s initial income tax cuts.

Another possibility is to immediately reduce the corporate tax for businesses with turnovers less $50 million from 30% to 25% without going through the intermediate stage of a 27.5% tax rate.

On immigration, there are reports that the government has a new population policy ready to go.

This will require certain categories of migrants to settle outside the major metropolises of Sydney and Melbourne which will ease the pressure on infrastructure development.

There is no indication that an absolute number will be imposed on immigration, as suggested by Tony Abbott, but the government will have to craft the message very carefully for beleaguered suburbanites in the big cities.

John McDonnell

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