A “re-energised” Labor Party is exploiting simmering tensions within the government which were exacerbated by the damage caused to Mal Brough over his role in the Peter Slipper affair, says a leading academic.
On Wednesday, senior ALP ministers launched strident attacks on Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott and leaked documents showing Treasurer Scott Morrison had modelled a higher GST.
The document, which revealed a series of tax reform options to be discussed at a meeting of state, federal and territory leaders this week, suggested GST changes were squarely on the agenda.
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Although Mr Morrison said the government was openly considering GST as a possible tax reform option, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen called for more transparency.
“Scott Morrison has a pathetic excuse that the states made him do it (prepare modelling for the increase),” Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
“We know that Scott Morrison wants to increase the GST – he should have the guts to own up to it.”
‘A new strategy’
The tougher recent tone from the ALP was a change in strategy since the days of Mr Abbott, according to Monash University’s Dr Ian Cook, which has seen the ALP change their focus from the leadership team to policy.
“It is a case of a re-energised Labor Party, to some extent, that had been languishing a little, or at least was happy under Abbott,” Dr Cook told The New Daily.
“They felt confident looking to the next election and then Turnbull comes along and holds things very well. You can imagine a certain level of dismay, but now they have a few issues that they can fight back on.”
Parliament may be over for 2015, but that hasn’t stopped the ALP laying the boot into the Federal Government over proposed GST hikes and “inflammatory” and “counterproductive” comments from a former Prime Minister.
Labor and the Coalition have been at loggerheads over tax reform in recent months, with the ALP promising it would not support any increase to the GST.
At the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on Friday, eight options – six GST proposals and two on the Medicare levy – would be discussed.
Abbott divides with calls for ‘religious revolution’
Mr Abbott made promises to refrain from ‘wrecking, undermining or sniping’, but that hasn’t stopped the former PM from making waves.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accused Mr Abbott of potentially undermining national security when he called for a “religious revolution” within Islam and declared superiority of western culture.
“Cultures are not all equal. We should be ready to proclaim the clear superiority of our culture to one that justifies killing people in the name of God,” he wrote in an article for The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday.
It prompted Mr Shorten to call for Mr Turnbull to pull the now-backbencher into line.
“Making assertions about cultural and religious superiority is entirely counterproductive,” he said in a statement.
“Inflammatory language undermines efforts to build social cohesion, mutual respect and has the potential to harm the efforts of national security agencies to keep Australians safe.”
Greens leader Richard Di Natale labelled the comments “incredibly divisive and destructive“.
“That language is divisive and it fans the flames of division here, Malcolm Turnbull has been a much wiser head when it comes to extremist violence,” he said.
“Go find yourself another hobby, maybe fishing or a game of golf.”
But the Prime Minister held back from all-out criticism.
“Mr Abbott is entitled to his views but you’re dealing with a whole range of issues there. I’m not sure what the response is, other than he’s entitled to his opinion,” he said.
GST uncertainty hits consumer confidence
Not only was the government facing backlash from Labor, but also the Australian public.
Talk of raising the goods and services tax was believed to have negatively impacted the latest Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment.
It fell by 0.8 per cent, from 101.7 points in November to 100.8 points in December, after a four per cent lift last month.
“Presumably speculation around tax changes, particularly with respect to the GST, is beginning to unnerve respondents,” Westpac’s chief economist Bill Evans said.