News National ‘We are signing our own death warrant’: Liberal MP
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‘We are signing our own death warrant’: Liberal MP

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Soon after Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister he received some hard-bitten political advice at a meeting of the Coalition party room.

Veteran Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent told the new leader and his less experienced colleagues that taking the GST to an election was signing a political death warrant.

Mr Broadbent said he had run in two GST elections, 1993 and 1998, and lost his seat in both.

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In 1998 John Howard saw his huge majority shrink. Nineteen seats were lost and at one stage on election night Mr Howard thought he was doomed to be a one-term Prime Minister.

So while the latest Newspoll would have most of the government party room breathing a sigh of relief, there is a huge black cloud to the silver lining.

The silver lining is the 53-47 two-party-preferred result. That mirrors the sort of support Tony Abbott got at the 2013 election.

John Howard
John Howard’s 1996 GST campaign cost his party dearly.

On paper it should mean most Coalition MPs will keep their seats.

But the dark cloud is the finding that 54 per cent of voters are opposed to any rise in the GST despite the lure of income tax cuts and compensation for lower-income earners.

A slim majority of Coalition voters are in favour of the plan, but the worry is that some may not remain Coalition voters if Mr Turnbull and his Treasurer Scott Morrison bite the GST bullet.

Despite an early reluctance on Mr Turnbull’s part to embrace a rise in the consumption tax, all the signs are he’s having a rethink.

Last year he told parliament he wouldn’t raise the GST if it couldn’t be done fairly.

Maybe now he believes income tax cuts and compensation will deliver the elusive fairness.

He sounded positively enthusiastic in his Radio 3AW interview on Friday.

“Certainly the changes to the GST are … part of the tax debate and certainly being actively considered by the government as (they) should be.”

A community perception that the tax hike is inevitable might be preventing Labor from capitalising on the government’s push for a 15 per cent GST.

Jay Weatherill is shaking up his own department and others.
Bill Shorten and the Opposition have found an unlikely enemy in South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.

Internal ALP research shows the Opposition’s ability to campaign hard on the issue is being undermined by the perception of inevitability.

That is why Bill Shorten and his senior colleagues have been hammering their outright rejection of the proposal at every opportunity, with little impact so far.

Making their job harder is the role South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill is playing in the debate.

Not only does he think a 15 per cent GST hike is an answer to his health and education funding problems, he asserts that federal Labor hasn’t got a credible alternative.

A frustrated Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke said Mr Weatherill’s claims that federal Labor has not properly funded its education reform promises “is just so demonstrably wrong that it needs to be called out”.

Further highlighting the federal party’s anger, another senior frontbencher Senator Stephen Conroy, has dared Mr Weatherill to take the GST rate hike to an early election. Of course he won’t do it, Mr Conroy said, because he knows he “would be creamed”.

Mr Turnbull looks like he will rise to the bait. He has enormous political capital at his disposal. He will need to spend a lot of it to crash through.

Mr Shorten is hoping with all his might that this could be the crazy brave move that brings the high-flying Prime Minister crashing to earth.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno

Read all of his columns here

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