The Costings Fetish and What it May Mean

Australian politics is undoubtedly at a strange place. Since the 2010 election when Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Labor Government scraped into the power with the support of the Greens and three Independent MP’s, all the usual hostilities have ramped up. Some new battles have even been established too. Much of this can be put down to one simple factor and that is the vicinity of power to the two political leaders. The Labor Party are just holding onto power, only just and the Liberal and National Party coalition still look very close to taking power at the 2013 election despite narrowing poll margins.

Of all the interesting and at times absurd events fomented by the fragile state of play, one of the most interesting has been the growing desire and outward protestations from the ALP , particularly over recent weeks and months, for the Coalition to cost their policies and do so now.

There are always calls from incumbent governments, it is true, for opposition parties to release and cost their policies as early as possible. Why would governments not want to do that? Were that to occur, to be common practice, it would certainly help the reigning political party or coalition to construct a strategy to rip apart the figures.

It has come to light this week that a relatively unusual event has occurred in Australian politics. The Gillard Government, it was revealed, asked Treasury to cost three existing Coalition policies. That analysis found that those three policies would come at a cost of $4.57 billion to businesses in the first year of a Coalition Government from 2013.

As was mentioned before, governments seeking costings in a rather energetic way has always been a bit of a thing. But now it appears to have developed into a fetish. Rarely before have the calls been so relentless and so vocal. Again, that mostly goes down to the thirst for either maintaining or gaining power, a hunger that both sides of politics have at the present time.

Really though, it is completely stupid to be asking, to be demanding that opposition parties release their policies so far out from the election. If the budget state is uncertain and your party have announced, or have a well-entrenched focus on achieving a particular budget outcome, then it would be folly to release your costed policies so far out from the election.

It is almost without doubt that the Coalition will either drop outright or alter, either in part or dramatically, their existing policies. You could almost be sure that the paid parental leave scheme will be different to the existing policy. The rhetoric around that policy has shifted and talk about it from the Coalition is no longer a priority, almost to the point of no words being uttered willingly about the proposed scheme.

Not only that, but the Opposition would surely be considering a number of cuts to existing government programs. That’s a hallmark of Liberal administrations.

An interesting thought does come to mind when thinking about the reasons for the Gillard Government seeking and then leaking costings of Liberal Party policies.

The possibility of a March election has been raised in the last week or so in response to a rush on the part of the Labor Party to get legislation through the parliament before it rises for the Christmas break.

Of course, running up to an election, as a government, you might want to look like you are getting things done, even though to some, too much government is a very bad thing. Australians though, on the whole, while they hate their government, whatever the political complexion, they tend to want, or rely on its intervention.

And so the recent suggestion of the Coalition has some weight. An early poll probably will not eventuate, but the thought must not be discounted.

Really, the most likely reason for the politicisation of Treasury is the thirst for more political blood. Surely the Gillard Government is itching for more momentum, to capitalise on recent movements.

It is the job of the Coalition to release their final suite of policies close enough to the election to put them in the context of the fiscal position but far enough out from the polls so that the public get a good look.

Now is too far out, despite what the Labor Party and sections of the media will have you believe.

About Tom Bridge

A perennial student of politics, providing commentary for money and for free. Email me at tbridgey@gmail.com or contact me on 0435 035 095 for engagements.

Posted on November 7, 2012, in Federal Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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