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Costello Gets a Gong That Will Make Him Feel at Home Even Though it’s in Queensland

In politics, not many come any bigger than Peter Costello, long-service Treasurer in the Howard Government and despite their personal relationship, one of his strongest political lieutenants. His political stature above all else is what he is known for. He and Howard were confronted with a budget in deficit in 1996 and $96 billion in government debt accrued by the Labor Government before them. He did that and did that well delivering surplus after surplus in the decade-plus of the Howard Government. He was a big-hitter with a big ego that was matched by big performances in his portfolio, in the parliament with his stinging attacks on the long-term Opposition, and also outside of it against the same team, his humour often dry and biting when in full flight.

But yes, aside from his personality it was his performance as Treasurer that won him and the government he represented the most support from the Australian people. Just recently against advice he was knocked back as the next chairperson of the Future Fund that he created in the later years of the Howard-Costello partnership to fund future costs of the public sector superannuation.

Costello missed that gong just a short period of time ago and with an incoming LNP Government under Premier Campbell Newman and Treasurer Tim Nicholls in Queensland, which was swept to power in such a dramatic fashion on Saturday night, has found himself in a position to do what he does best. The former Australian Treasurer will chair a Commission of Audit to recommend a path or paths forward for a new LNP Government looking to take the Queensland economy forward after 20 of the last 22 years under the Australian Labor Party.

At the end of the year it is projected that Queensland will find itself in $62 billion dollars of debt as reported by the new Queensland Treasurer, Tim Nicholls in his statement today while announcing the appointment of Mr Costello as commission chair. Looking at the state of the books and how to reduce this  debt so LNP promises can be delivered will be part of the task ahead for the audit committee where he will be joined by Dr Doug McTaggart of QIC and Professor Sandra Harding, former Under Treasurer of Queensland and now Vice Chancellor of James Cook University.

The former economic manager in the Howard Government will also, through charting possible ways of cutting down debt and inefficiencies in the government spending, hopefully plot a course back to a AAA credit rating with Queensland, despite its mineral resources and the wealth they create, being the only mainland state without the full credit rating.

The cuts look like being deep and hard, with some programs already being dismantled by the newly sworn Premier Newman and his Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Treasurer Tim Nicholls. Tomorrow the other ministers responsible for government departments will be named and will get to work after being sworn in by the Queensland Governor early next week, doing the same to already identified programs in their respective gambits of responsibility.

One thing is for certain, Mr Costello will be at home examining the Queensland economy and government spending and the budget priorities of the current and past governments and just where they fit in terms of efficiency and priority and helping to navigate Queensland to a better fiscal position along with the rest of his team and with the LNP Government who will make the final important decisions after being provided with the learned advice.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

By far the biggest political action in Australia this week occurred in the state of Queensland, which overnight saw its majority eviscerated at the hands of a unified Campbell Newman led Opposition. But alas, this blog is about Australian politics and aside from some electoral implications for the federal Australian Labor Party and the change in complexion of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the events of the week in Queensland have little relevance when examining the events of federal politics over the past week.

Yes, the result is in many respects another stake in the heart of federal Labor which on results tonight would be all but wiped out across Queensland if swings were uniform statewide. When the Gillard Government is already in a minority government situation, the trend toward the Coalition in Queensland alone, if it were borne out at the next federal election would see the government fall easily, before even adding in New South Wales where there is potential for catastrophic losses.

An incoming Newman LNP Government means that another Coalition Premier has a seat at the COAG table, along with the Premier’s of Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. This probably will not have a major impact as COAG in recent years has tended to be fairly tame and “cooperative federalism” has reigned supreme. However from time to time issues may present themselves where the Liberal Premiers feel the need to join together in opposition to something that the ALP Government chooses to pursue. It would appear that the carbon tax is in the sights of the Premier-elect, so this and the MRRT appear to be at least two exceptions to the rule.

Julia Gillard and her government saw the passage of their Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), by the Senate this week which was alone in major events in Canberra for the week in Australian politics, the last sitting period before the budget is handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan in May. Tony Abbott and the Opposition have vowed to continue to fight the tax after its implementation and to repeal it in government and their parliamentary strategy over that and the carbon tax in recent months have echoed those words.

The parliament shared its focus  in Question Time between the carbon tax, largely as a result of Opposition questions and the newly passed mining tax. The Opposition focused on perceived effects of the carbon tax on business and households and the revenue projections of the mining tax and the effect the tax  may have on the economy.

The government focused on the spending associated with the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the tax cuts to small and big business which the Coalition opposes because it opposes the tax.

Also this week, Canberra descended into gaggles of laughter which transcended political boundaries after a very strange speech from mining magnate Clive Palmer who has since tried to put distance between himself and his comments. Mr Palmer claimed that the Greens were funded by the CIA to wreck the Australian economy by destroying the mining industry which helped keep the nation afloat during the GFC.

As Australia continues to meander toward the May budget, the focus outside of the parliament will be on Treasurer Wayne Swan and the ability he and his government have to deliver the surplus they promised for fiscal year 2012-13. The focus  of the media will be on trying to get a picture of the extent of the task before confirmation of the severity of any further cuts and just how much the effort will rely on the sneaky deferral of spending priorities for the budgetary year. There promises to be much political fodder over the coming weeks and the political discourse will certainly not be dull.

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