MUNGO MACCALLUM: One job left — call the election, ScoMo!

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

A somewhat exasperated Bill Shorten accuses Scott Morrison of playing games over the election date — and so he is.

But why not? He has very little else to play games about. The decision for an election is one of the very few things the Prime Minister can control — it is the one issue on which his authority is unquestioned. So when you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Of course, this can be seen as mean, tricky, cynical, opportunist — but that is part of the ScoMo brand. It’s a bit too late to complain about it now.

And talking of things that have missed the boat – the ones so many of his former colleagues are jumping off – the last chance Budget can hardly be call visionary and inspiration, a rousing call to arms to a desperate party.

Instead, we got another promise of a surplus next year, much in the manner of the regular pronouncements of Wayne Swan. The usual beefing up of tax cuts for potential swinging voters with heaps more to come for the Party’s real constituents, immense quantities of pork, barrelled out to vulnerable Coalition seats and a paean of wistful nostalgia for the great Liberal days of the past, the ones before the current Government arrived.

Very little sizzle and almost no new sausage, essentially an exercise in self-congratulation and spin. The regular repetition of the mantra “with no new taxes” was particularly touching, with the follow up that the Coalition's taxes will always be lower than Labor’s. In fact, ScoMo’s take is considerably higher than Labor’s ever was, but that’s the Budget for you – and that’s our marketeer, embarking on the campaign of his life, the one he was born for.

Bill Shorten’s reply did not set the place ablaze either, but at least he had something to say about the future — and a big announcement on cancer. The Government’s response was that it already had the situation under control, but as a sufferer of the disease for more than five years and counting, I can assure them that there is plenty of room for improvement. Almost all my treatment was in public hospitals – and bloody good they are – but there are still plenty of extra expenses. Shorten’s proposal will be warmly applauded, and already has been.

But of course, the nay-sayers of News Corp will have none of that reckless, economy-wrecking spending and Morrison should stop pussy-footing around and just get kicking and gouging. One of the most rabid, Chris Kenny, says that Morrison’s failure to double down on his right-wing base has meant that the Coalition’s vote has been eroded by extreme right splinter groups like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Clive Palmer’s Australia Party and Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives — he could have added the clique of commentators in the Murdoch media.

To respond to the threat, Kenny demands more negativity, more aggro, more "Peter Dutton" from Morrison, who, he laments, has simply followed the namby-pamby script devised by the hated former PM Malcolm Turnbull in the 2016 campaign. Kenny has apparently not been listening for the last couple of weeks when Morrison has done little else than scream brutal personal abuse about Bill Shorten’s lies and taxes. And if Kenny hasn’t been listening, you can bet not many other people have either.

But ScoMo’s slogan is based on a lie of its own — or at least a severe bending of the truth. The constant repetition of “Labor’s $200 billion worth of new taxes” starts with the use of pretty rubbery figures. Even the Liberals' own website – hardly the most objective source – struggles to ramp up the total, adding in the purely mythical assumption that Labor’s climate change policy would require unspecified billions in new tax.

But the three-word slogan masks the fact that most of them are not new taxes at all. The vast majority – the abolition of negative gearing for new investment properties, the reduction of exemptions for capital gains tax, the ending of tax refunds for those who did not pay the tax in the first place – are in fact restoring old taxes which had been distorted by concessions used overwhelmingly by the rich as a method of tax avoidance.

Then there is the rejection of the Coalition’s plans to reduce some of the pie-in-the-sky tax cuts for the higher income brackets. And most absurdly the continuation – not the initiation – of the Coalition’s own deficit levy for top earners. The tweaking of superannuation can be stretched as a new tax, but the only measure that really stands up to ScoMo’s fantasy horror story is a new tax on some family trusts.

And in any case, it needs to be emphasised that whatever the status of the $200 billion, it is not proposed for next year, but cumulative over the next decade – meaning that much of it may or not happen — just like Morrison’s second and third tier tax cuts, the ones that even the sainted Peter Costello regards as too far into the never-never to be credible.

But most importantly, when Morrison rails about Shorten raiding the pockets of hard-working Australians, it is simply not true. Few, if any, of Shorten’s prescriptions, will affect the vast bulk of the population because they are targeted at well off punters looking for tax advantages and believing they are entitled to them — the ones Joe Hockey used to call "leaners", not "lifters".

The PM’s office and their Murdoch minions have diligently unearthed a few disgruntled nurses, school teachers and firefighters as well as a crop of long-term Liberal apparatchiks to bolster the case that Shorten is attacking the battlers, but the only battle most of them are worried about is their battle to maintain their lurks and perks. 'Class warfare', splutters The Australian — well perhaps, but the billionaire American investor Warren Buffet summed it up best when he said that, yes, there is a class war and his class is winning. Most of what Shorten is doing is simply trying to redress the balance.

So, there will have to be yet another last chance. Indeed, the conservative fantasists will no doubt go in insisting that there is still a last chance, until about 5.55 pm on election day. But even they are sick of ScoMo’s shilly-shallying. They just want to get it over with. And don’t we all.

Mungo MacCallum is a veteran journalist who worked for many years in the Canberra Press Gallery. This article was published on 'Pearls and Irritations' and is republished with permission.

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