Treasurer Scott Morrison has dialled up his rhetoric to ‘economic war’ status against Labor leader Bill Shorten.
While Mr Shorten and his deputy were diverted at the Sydney fish markets by a Chaser prank featuring a rat, Mr Morrison called in the news media to launch his all-out attack.
Mr Morrison’s repetitive use of the word “war” on Thursday has only drawn attention to a political overreach with accompanying cynicism that his newly declared “war” is actually masking the superannuation backlash within the Coalition’s own supporters.
Mr Shorten’s tax and spend policies are considered to be only moderately redistributive with commitments to health and Gonski schools future funding. Significantly, Labor has reneged on its commitment to restore the school kids bonus and to relax the pensions assets test, explaining its virtuous motivation was deficit discipline.
It has declared it will retain indefinitely the 2 per cent budget repair levy on incomes above $180,000 and will not proceed with the Coalition’s 10-year “glide path” to 25 per cent company tax, with the immediate exception of small business.
But Mr Morrison has now produced another of his now famous graphics to declare Mr Shorten’s “toxic” taxes were like bullets in his “war” against economic growth.
At his Thursday news conference, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declined to admonish the Treasurer for inflammatory language.
“Let me be clear, Bill Shorten has declared war on business,” Mr Turnbull said.
While Cabinet secretary Arthur Sinodinos had exacerbated speculation of a possible government backflip on its superannuation reforms, Mr Turnbull held the Coalition line.
“What Arthur was referring to was that there is always consultation about the details of the drafting, and what I think Mathias Cormann called the administrative implementation. But the policy, the substance of it, the economic substance of it, that is all settled, that’s in the budget and that’s our policy.”
Both parties this week have acknowledged that Australia’s economy is “fragile” with weak business investment and patchy jobs growth. While the Coalition has enjoyed good economic news with Tuesday’s 3.1 per cent annualised GDP growth figure, lower revenues indicate there is little capacity for more government-initiated economic stimulus, without threatening the AAA credit rating.
With the Coalition dealt the better hand through the headline GDP number, the challenge for Mr Shorten is to demonstrate just how Labor would stimulate the economy if it is elected on July 2.
Instead of rising to this challenge, Mr Shorten started a scare campaign, telling his Thursday news conference that a re-elected Turnbull government would ditch its funding commitments and cut more deeply into all government services.
It appears the ghost of Tony Abbott will now be deployed in Labor messaging to warn of lies and broken promises to come.
While the Prime Minister has attacked “militant and lawless” trade unions bankrolling the Australian Labor Party to reinstate their “rorts” after the election, a Fair Work case has exposed sweetheart practices.
The practices systemically disadvantage low-paid employees which, with the recent scandal over exploitation of 7-Eleven employees, reveals some trade unions are selling out their members.
In a devastating critique published in Crikey.com, trade unionist and Labor Party member Tim Vollmer called on the ALP and the Australian Council of Trade Unions to dissociate from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, the SDA, or ‘Shoppies’.
Fair Work has struck down an SDA agreement with Coles because it paid workers below the legal minimum safety net covering wages and conditions.
Mr Vollmer said the Fair Work precedent threatened similar sweetheart deals covering thousands of workers, including those at Woolworths and McDonald’s.
“Major retailers such as Woolworths and Coles welcome union officials in. They are provided with access to new recruits, workplace agreements are negotiated, and union membership fees are directly processed by the payroll departments. In return, not only is there industrial peace, but the union pays millions in ‘administration fees’ to the companies,” Mr Vollmer wrote.
He said Mr Shorten’s appeal to voters to trust Labor to protect weekend penalty rates was undermined when viewed alongside the SDA’s trade-offs.
“It’s a disturbing business model. Effectively, the SDA pays employers for the right to represent their workers, using them as pawns in political power plays. Many are left financially worse off than if they had simply been covered by the award safety net.”
The SDA has yet to respond to Mr Vollmer’s attack.
It remains to be seen if Mr Turnbull, whose focus has been the aggressive tactics of the CFMEU in its construction industry wage demands, will politically exploit the bitter dissent now apparent within the trade union movement.
Quentin Dempster is political editor of The New Daily. He has more than 40 years’ experience in print and television (The Sun Herald, The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC TV) and is the author of three critically acclaimed books and a documentary on institutionalised corruption. He also has a Walkley Award and an Order of Australia for an ‘outstanding contribution to journalism’.