A day after Malcolm Turnbull was told by one Liberal Party elder not to shirk tax reform and told by another that his government was lost without an economic agenda, the PM has asked for advice.
On Saturday, former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott launched simultaneous public attacks on Mr Turnbull, with Mr Howard urging the new PM to be bold and Mr Abbott claiming that his successor was adrift without an economic narrative.
Not too proud to ask for help, Mr Turnbull on Sunday admitted to having “a long chat” with Mr Howard, who nearly lost office when he introduced the GST at the end of his first term in 1998.
With the Coalition party room split over changes to tax breaks for property investors, Mr Howard told Sky News negative gearing had been around “forever” and the government should be careful about making any changes.
“There are a lot of modest-income people who accumulate some money and then negatively gear a property, particularly [those] who don’t want to invest in the share market,” Mr Howard said.
Mr Turnbull said he had been discussing the issue with Mr Howard.
“Look, it’s very important to treat any changes to the tax system very carefully, indeed I had a long chat with John about negative gearing and other aspects of tax only yesterday, in fact – a long chat,” he said.
The PM said Mr Howard had been “a great source of advice”.
Seeking to exploit the moment, Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese sought to downplay any differentiation between Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott saying the current PM is Tony Abbott in a top hat.
People expected a change in prime minister would bring something different, he said.
“What they have got is Tony Abbott in a top hat,” he said.
He is predicting there will be a long election campaign battle because the federal government needs to buy time.
“Given that they don’t have an agenda, I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually needed a little bit more time to discover some policies and to discover that they actually are the government and start acting like it,” Mr Albanese told ABC TV on Sunday.
Mr Albanese declined to say whether he would be interested in the Labor leadership if the party loses the 2016 poll, saying he intends to be a Labor government minister “which is far better”.
Mr Howard’s comments followed excerpts published in The Australian of a soon-to-be-released Quadrant essay written by Mr Abbott.
In the essay – titled The Economic Case for the Abbott government – Mr Abbott reportedly argued that Mr Turnbull had failed to produce his own economic narrative.
Mr Abbott asserted in the essay that: “Nearly two years on from the 2014 budget, getting spending down remains the critical issue.
“The only way to provide for a tax cut rather than a tax shift is to get spending down; hence the ongoing need to implement reforms that generate savings.
“I’m confident that we could have won the 2016 election with a [my] program of budget savings and lower tax.”
Both the Liberal Party heavyweight’s comments came at the end of a week where the Turnbull government had endured widespread criticism for being slow to release its tax reform agenda.
Some Coalition backbenchers had been agitating against any changes to negative gearing, arguing that investors could be spooked by any moves to curb the tax break.
The government will unveil its tax package in the lead-up to the next budget.
Mr Turnbull has also abandoned a plan to lift the GST from 10 per cent to 15 per cent. It was expected that a GST hike could have raised $30 billion.
Mr Howard declared that the argument for raising the GST was overwhelming because it would enable the government to lower the income tax burden on average Australian wage earners.
The Turnbull government is reportedly considering reducing the tax break available for the richest Australians who negatively gear their properties.
Mr Howard stated that the Coalition should think carefully before tinkering with negative gearing, because it could have an adverse affect on rent prices.
He also warned it would hurt those on modest incomes to take advantage of negative gearing on their investment properties.
The Labor Party announced its plan to curb negative gearing before the Coalition had rolled-out any of the plans that made up its own tax reform agenda.
– with ABC, AAP