There seems to be more interest in Joe Hockey’s meetings with the cross-benchers than Blake Garvey’s dates with the ladies on Channel 10’s reality TV show the Bachelor.
So here’s the scoop – while we had a lovely chat, Joe Hockey did not give me a rose. And luckily for me, I can’t be ejected from the Senate as easily as the ladies can be kicked out of the Bachelor’s mansion.
I’m not one to kiss and tell, so I won’t divulge what Joe shared with me. But I’ll let you know what I raised with him. And I’m happy to report that Joe responded to each of my points with interest. You can interpret that as the Government doubling down on its push for less government spending and a return to surplus. Or you can just interpret it as Joe being polite.
I agreed with Joe’s view that, while we don’t currently have a Budget emergency, if we continue on our current path we will have one soon enough. As we see in Europe, when a Budget emergency comes there is no choice but to introduce draconian taxes and make deep cuts to spending — ranging from defence to welfare for the least well off.
I told Joe that his Budget was timid and he should be aiming for a surplus this year, or at least next. Whether he found it refreshing to be attacked for being too soft I don’t know. He was smiling at the time.
I admonished Joe for not having read the Budget I released the day before his own Budget. Perhaps he was busy at the time, and for some reason my Budget didn’t receive the same fanfare his did.
For those who somehow missed it, my Budget outlined savings of $1 billion a year from selling off (or allowing advertising on) the ABC and SBS, $2 billion from cutting the extraordinary salaries of politicians and public servants, $5 billion from making owners of million-dollar houses ineligible for the age pension, $5 billion from cutting subsidies to universities, and $7 billion from cutting corporate welfare.
With a Budget like that, I would have had great difficulty getting it through the Senate. So I sympathised with Joe about the task before him.
In the full knowledge that I’m a political novice, I offered the following advice: avoid gimmicks, avoid all-or-nothing arguments, and compromise.
The Budget has its fair share of gimmicks. Linking the proposed Medical Research Future Fund to the Medicare co-payment is a gimmick. Promising to direct the additional revenue from a fuel tax increase into road building is a gimmick. And linking privatisation with new infrastructure spending is a gimmick. Rather than using gimmicks, the Government should argue for each policy on its merits.
Avoiding all‑or‑nothing arguments means putting each Budget saving proposal to a separate vote in the Senate and accepting whatever victories result. The Senate rejected half the Budget-boosting proposals linked to the Mining Tax Repeal Bill, including the proposal to abolish the poorly-targeted Schoolkids Bonus. But it agreed with the other half of the Government’s Budget-boosting proposals, consisting of proposals to increase business taxes that I tried in vain to kill off. The Government’s current stance is to reject the Senate’s watered-down boost to the Budget, but the pragmatic approach would be to take what you can get.
Compromise is something we all have to do. For instance, I’m not a huge fan of the regulations that prescribe the types of reverse mortgages that people can and can’t enter into. But if these regulations make people comfortable with drawing down the equity in their home, and if that makes it politically possible to remove age pension eligibility from people with million-dollar homes, then I’m willing to support them.
The Government will have to compromise in a similar fashion. If it can’t abolish the Schoolkids Bonus, it might be able to properly means test it. If it can’t increase co-payments for visits to the doctor and prescription drugs at the same time, perhaps it should negotiate to do one but not the other. And if it can’t reduce eligibility for the dole while employers face barriers to taking on new staff, perhaps it should bring forward workplace reforms to reduce these barriers.
Joe Hockey and the Government have a tough job getting their plans through the Senate. I’m happy to help. And hopefully it will work out better than reality TV.
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