ScoMo must go where Labor dare not tread — David Leyonhjelm

by David Leyonhjelm

If another Tampa appeared on the horizon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison could take a hard line, Labor could appear soft, and the Coalition might win the next election. But in the absence of something like that, we are headed for a Shorten Labor government.

This should not be a surprise. Ever since late 2014, the Coalition’s offering has been Labor-lite.

Since Morrison negotiated the turn-back-the-boats policy through the Senate in late 2014, there’s been no movement on broader immigration issues. Once the carbon tax was repealed in 2014, the government went on to commit to cut Australian greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent over a period in which China’s emissions, already 20 times those of Australia, will nearly double.

And once the spending cuts in the 2014 budget were blocked by the Senate, no attempt was made to cut spending in ways that could bypass the Senate.

This Labor-lite path was clearly intentional under prime minister Turnbull, who boasted on his way out that his government was ‘progressive’, which in current political terms means ‘left-wing’.

In fact, choosing Turnbull to lead the Coalition was the epitome of a Labor-lite approach.

Yet being Labor-lite is electoral suicide for the Coalition. If it continues to ramp up spending over the next six months, it will merely focus voter minds on issues that help Labor; Labor will always promise to outspend the Coalition. And if it were to maintain a wishy-washy energy policy consistent with cutting emissions by 26 per cent, voters who care about that still wouldn’t vote for the Coalition.

What the Coalition needs is headlines describing a government in charge, not a government floundering in the face of Senate obstruction. And it particularly needs headlines about policies that the entire Coalition can get behind, but which Labor could never match. That requires bold executive decisions rather than announcements that depend on legislation passing the Senate.

Three good places to start are immigration, emissions and government spending.

On immigration, there is plenty the Morrison government could do to boost the contribution of immigrants to our economy. For example, it could put significant conditions on family reunion permanent immigration so that, instead of accepting around 60,000 family reunion migrants a year who pay modest sums for their visa, we could charge a hefty entry fee to help balance the budget.

This would limit overall migrant numbers, something that would please Coalition voters, while the retention of skilled migration would ensure the economy did not suffer. The hordes of complaining migrants who could no longer afford to sponsor their family members as immigrants would ensure that Labor did not copy it.

On emissions, the Morrison government should explicitly abandon the commitment to reduce Australia’s emissions so long as China and India are not doing the same. This would be responsible global politics, as global emissions cannot fall unless these countries cut theirs, but the kumbaya brigade would wail from their solar-panelled rooftops, ensuring Labor would never copy the policy.

At the same time the government could overcome investor uncertainty about future energy policy by offering new investors in power generation a contractual ‘no-carbon-price’ guarantee. The government could also lower the price of certificates offered under its rooftop solar subsidy scheme, which would provide households without solar panels additional relief from high electricity prices.

On government spending, the Morrison government should announce a mini-budget before the end of the year, targeting the areas of spending that can be cut without the need for legislation to pass the Senate. In essence, this means slashing spending on public servants in Canberra.

A range of bodies could be defunded including research bodies like the CSIRO, cultural bodies like the Arts Council, and corporate welfare bodies like Austrade. Virtue-signalling bureaucracies such as the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and affirmative action bodies like Indigenous Business Australia could go too.

Public service wages, and foreign aid other than for short-term disaster relief, could also be cut without the need for Senate approval.

The howling protests from people whom ordinary Australians loathe, like Canberra public servants and the virtue-signalling kumbaya brigade, would play right into the hands of the Coalition.

Turning the Coalition around after almost four years of being Labor-lite might be harder than turning around the Tampa, but it’s their only hope.

David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats

This article was orginally published in the Australian Financial Review and is written by David Leyonhjelm.