The Turnbull Show's nasty accident with reality

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Single mother confronts PM about education costs. (Image via sbs.com.au.)

Panama Papers, trickle-down economics, no real economic plan and a widening gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots". David Tyler analyses the "Turnbull Show" so far. 

THE TURNBULL GOVERNMENT has lost the plot with its election agenda.

After conning the Governor General into granting assent for a double dissolution with the fiction that its blocked ABCC legislation was mission critical, the PM has since dropped the issue in a bid to sell his economically innumerate and unsaleable Budget — another work of fiction.

This is a change of tack which is engaging the community in ways that can only further hurt his fast-receding election prospects.

Turnbull’s first approach, however, is to normalise the use of off-shore companies to reduce tax. Defending his role as a company director in an offshore company set up by Mossack Fonseca on the dubious grounds that “it certainly would have paid tax in Australia", if it had paid any tax at all, he unerringly puts his finger on the problem that such companies are set up to minimise tax.

Now that Turnbull has given the green light, ordinary Australians across the nation are promising that when they, too, set up their next Siberian gold prospecting company, they, too, will choose an offshore company to help them pay tax in Australia.

If his offshore argument prevails, Turnbull will have no trouble peddling the preposterous lie that cutting company taxes and income taxes for the less than a quarter of Australians who earn over $80,000 does not amount to simply rewarding his party’s wealthy backers.

He may even convince us that the cuts are funded by the $4 billion to be gained from tax evasion clampdowns. An Australian Tax Office (ATO) already down 4,700 in staff since the coalition came to office will retrieve billions from wealthy and well-resourced multi-national company tax evaders. An extra 1,300 ATO workers will be recruited or rehired leaving a workforce depleted by only 3,400 and a tad demoralised — to say nothing of the loss of specialised knowledge.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the PM holds that lowering business and personal income taxes is not only an act of economic genius, it’s an inspired form of social service whereby everybody gets richer in the end. Malcolm’s magic pudding mixture, moreover is freely available.

Amazing similarities link Scott Morrison’s economic plan with an almost identical failure in the United Sates. Jobs and growth even recycles a George W. Bush campaign slogan. It’s either reality-defying chutzpah or a perverse determination to copy abject failure. In other words, it’s standard LNP political leadership.

In 2003, Bush’s 10-year "economic plan" was for “jobs and growth”. He cut taxes. His Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act followed his 2001 cuts — the effects of which were disastrous. Between 2001 and 2010, U.S. national debt grew from $5.8 trillion to $13.5 trillion. U.S. Federal revenue fell from 20% GDP in 2000 to 14.6% in 2009, while unemployment doubled from 4% to 8%.

The U.S. economy is not our economy. America doesn’t have Australia’s dividend imputation scheme which allows many of our companies to pay no tax, a fact missed in the coalition’s spin. Yet Morrison and Bush share the fundamentals: grow the pie. Cut taxes and create wealth.

Of course, this is all a ruse to hide the fact that the election’s timing is all about Turnbull. The PM must rush to the polls before his cosmetic popular appeal wears off completely like fake tan in the pool. He has no economic plan. Nor has he ever demonstrated the means to negotiate one. All his attempts to forge budgetary consensus fell off the table because he failed to accommodate key stakeholders. Or, he made outrageous offers to state premiers. Now he’s simply going through the motions, equipped with some second-hand slogans.

Yet he’s done us all a favour. Turnbull’s long and slow election campaign is extraordinary for the way reality has so quickly broken through the spin and the stage-management. What was predicted to be a dull, hard slog has quickly become an engrossing spectacle.

Pundits primed us to be bored; to quickly tune out of a long, dreary election campaign. “Nothing to see here”, said our fourth estate mavens and media magnate mouthpieces, who eagerly pre-package our perceptions, provide take-away conclusions and pre-digest our thinking for us.

How wrong they were. A week into its long-running schedule, the election campaign’s "Truman Show", with its scripted informality and over-directed spontaneity, has been upstaged by reality. The Budget’s economic plan is a resounding bellyflop. In a long, slow campaign, ordinary punters keep getting into the frame, arguing with “Mr Sydney Harbourside mansion”, as Peta Credlin dubbed the PM, on screen. Social justice threatens to reclaim the field.

Our attention has been attracted to real people and their lives. 

The mind-numbing, reality-denying, thought bubbles of election trail windbaggery are punctured by a succession of real-life cameo appearances from real people.

Instead of the treasurer’s Budget message of mindless optimism, in ever sharper relief appears the rapidly widening gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots". The true enemy of productivity is upstaging the slogans, the scare-tactics and the stigmatising of the poor. What’s happening?

Duncan Storrer sticks his head up. The part-time driver from Geelong says he has a disability and left school early, yet he has a pearler of a question on Q&A for Ms Kelly O’Dwyer. For all of us.

For a while, it looks like a bit of a Zaky Mallah moment. All $300,00O per annum of Walkley Award winner Tony Jones’ salary, hovers in the balance and he appears unsteady, unsure which way Duncan is heading.

Few on the panel speak the language of the poor, it is clear. Apart from Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS, few seem aware of the poor, their plight or their rights. Few seem to care.

Assistant Finance Minister O’Dwyer, Presbyterian Ladies’ College alumna and member for the blue-ribbon electorate of Higgins – Jones knows full well – does not, normally, have much truck with the likes of Duncan. He need not have worried, O’Dwyer utterly misses the point of his enquiry, anyway, in a long-winded response about business.

Duncan says

“I’ve got a disability and a low education, that means I’ve spent my whole life working for minimum wage. You’re gonna lift the tax free threshold for rich people.”

There are at least 800,000 Australians on a disability pension, despite tightened eligibility — and about one third of the nation’s workforce is part-time.

O’Dwyer, who appears unprepared to encounter a low-paid disabled part-time worker, let alone one challenging the coalition’s tax policy, sounds almost prime ministerial as she wobbles off topic in a long-winded bit of "Malsplaining", clearing up less and less as she goes on.

It’s about balance,” she ends hopefully, like a junior debater who has a phrase or two put by for emergencies.

Duncan Storrer shakes his head. It is about fairness, decency and humanity, and the whole audience knows it. And it quickly turns to being about democracy.

Storrer refuses to be slapped down on Q&A because of his low income. Business bigwig Innes Willox sneers at him for daring to speak out when he pays next to no income tax. Duncan puts him right about being a GST paying taxpayer. He has every right to be heard.

Others are upsetting the campaign apple cart. Melinda, a single mother, confronts Malcolm Turnbull about education costs in the Labor-held Melbourne seat of Hotham. He fobs her off with empty campaign rhetorical reassurance when the Coalition’s only plan for schools is to scrap Gonski funding after 2017 — much of which is targeted to disadvantaged schools.


Turnbull says:

“Our expenditure per student in state schools, like your boys’ schools, has been rising rapidly, far faster, than the state governments’.”

Melinda replies:

“That’s not what the schools are saying ... Give the kids a chance, give them a fighting chance please.”

Of course, such incursions of reality into campaigning are rare and heavily guarded against. Reprisals are common. And vicious. Already the Murdoch press has done a number on Duncan, sending Caroline Overington of The Australian to interview Duncan’s son over what a dead-beat druggie dad Duncan really was. His story is not so easily trashed.

Over 73 days, the appeal of a second-hand failed economic plan, a record of three years of failure won’t add up to much. The squalid spectacle of a desperate struggle for self-preservation by a party of privilege well past its use by date will be no match for the competing discourses of real Australians whose daily struggles to survive eclipse in eloquence and depth the mindless slogans, the deception and the lies of The Turnbull Show and its stage managers.

You can follow David Tyler on Twitter @urbanwronski.

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