When you listened to Malcolm Turnbull’s speeches on Monday you heard sentences like this one:
“The big economic changes that we’re living through here and around the world offer enormous challenges and enormous opportunities.”
He repeated that stuff about opportunities again on Tuesday.
“The opportunities that are there in the global economy, built on the foundations in no small measure of the free trade deals, are enormous.”
To most normal people that sounds like a whole lot of nothing. It’s just “blah blah blah”.
But if you’ve hung around economic policy-making long enough, you know that’s actually code. When a government talks about challenges they’re normally thinking about budget deficits. When they talk about opportunities they’re talking about how they can change the law so growing industries can operate more easily.
Mr Turnbull is hinting at changes in all those areas.
Here’s five top things Malcolm Turnbull might do next.
1. Infrastructure bonds
Malcolm Turnbull used to be an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. He knows all about bonds and if anyone can take this idea to the public, it’s him.
Bonds are a way the government can borrow money to invest in infrastructure Australia needs – without a direct hit to the Budget.
Given Mr Turnbull’s love for trains and trams, he might be keen to invest a lot in public transport – bonds could be the clever way.
2. Tax cuts for business
Much of the rest of the world has a lower company tax rate than Australia. Business uses this argument all the time to argue it would invest here more if there were lower company taxes.
Mr Turnbull is very close to the business community and he has doubtless heard this argument many times. He may even believe it.
Cutting the company tax rate from 30 per cent is a distinct possibility under Mr Turnbull.
3. Superannuation changes
Every Prime Minister knows people will judge him on whether he produces a surplus. Even though they don’t matter much to the economy, surpluses matter politically. So governments need revenue. The easiest place for governments to pick up a bit of cash these days is super.
Many policy think-tanks recommend higher taxes on superannuation for the rich. Mr Turnbull – himself extremely rich with a fortune worth around $180 million – might be the right guy to advocate for such changes, which could save $20 billion a year.
4. Boosting technology companies
Mr Turnbull loves technology. He made $55 million investing in an early email startup in the 1990s. And he’s the PM who was using Wickr – the encrypted text message service – before anyone else had even heard of it.
Expect him to invite the venture capital firms that sprinkle billions of dollars over Silicon Valley to come to Sydney and see if they can’t make some magic happen in Australia too.
It may be that nothing comes from this other than photo opportunities. But what smart PM would undervalue a bit of good publicity?
5. Making Australia a destination for surgery
When Mr Turnbull talks opportunities, he’s talking about Asia. Australia exports a lot of education to Asia and it is making us rich. But there are other even more valuable services we could export. Very little has been done to help Australia export our top-quality health system. Aussies often go to Thailand for surgery. It should be the other way round.
With a bit of work, we could be the preferred place for Asia to come for the highest quality medical treatment. Nobody is talking about this but it’s exactly the sort of imaginative policy you hope for when you install a PM like Mr Turnbull.
The policy agenda of Mr Turnbull remains to be seen. Some of the ideas above might pop up soon. Some might take a long time. He has promised to consult with Cabinet, so his very best ideas might go under the bus.
Can the energetic and risk-taking Prime Minister Turnbull live with the constraints of cabinet decision-making processes? Or will he follow his predecessors Mr Abbott and Mr Rudd into policy on the run and “captain’s picks”? Time will tell.