Albo’s continual failures

May 1, 2024
A sunset wide view of federal Parliament House at Canberra

Thanks to Anthony Albanese’s prolonged refusal to change the Morrison government’s damaging policies that he has endorsed, Labor is struggling to stay around 30% in the opinion polls for the next election. One upshot is the latest OECD figures show low and middle income workers in Australia had the highest increase in personal income taxes in the developed world in 2023. The increase for singles below $67,000 (about 2/3 of average income) was was 17% higher than in 2022. Little wonder many voters complain about the cost of living. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Shane Wright points out that those on 167% of average earnings –around $166,000 –only suffered a 0.1% increase.

Until Albanese finally relented, he had refused to budge from retaining the Coalition’s three stage income tax cuts that overwhelmingly favoured high income earners. The Treasury in earlier years explained that big tax cuts for high income people might not encourage them to lift their productivity – – the supposed goal. For example, a dentist, who hated drilling teeth, but loved golf, could take off more time to play without cutting his or her level of take-home pay.

The main reason for the big increase in taxes paid by on those on modest incomes in current year is that the Morrison government’s generous Low and Middle Income Tax Offset ended on 30 June 2023. This offset had been incorporated into the three stage tax changes to soften some of their impact on lower income earners. Labor’s Treasurer Jim Chalmers says that everyone will get a tax cut in the budget he delivers in a few days. Meanwhile Labor has been suffering from Albanese’s completely unnecessarily failure to scrap Morrison’s three stage tax cuts. All Albanese had to do was make a change that helps Labor’s natural base.

Albanese’s failure stems from stubbornness and reluctance to break an election promise that he should never have made. Now that he’s finally relented and let his Treasurer loose, Labor is not being punished for dropping Morrison’s big tax cuts for the well off.

Many voters are also hit by high rents which rose nationally by 7.8% in 2023 and 8.5% in the capital cities. The solution is not to subsidise more privately owned houses whose prices the owners want to see keep rising. Instead, the government should build a lot more permanent rental homes with rents frozen or near frozen. More social housing with low rents is also needed. This would not be cheap, but there is ample scope to increase revenue from export of minerals and energy, the abolition of diesel fuel subsidies and increased capital gains taxes. A lower surplus would help.

Labor has failed to scrap private service providers who make the lives of job seekers unnecessarily difficult. It has also refused to lift the dole (the New Start allowance) in line with annual inflation, despite bodies such as the Business Council supporting a full increase.

What about Albanese’s contribution to our democracy? Again, he is woefully ignorant. He told The Guardian, “Because of its values, Australia won’t attack any other country”. He seems oblivious to the fact that it did so when it invaded Iraq in 2003 and Vietnam in 1965. After a briefing on nuclear submarines – a subject about which he knew nothing—he boasted it only took him an hour to decide that we needed ones like those chosen by Morrison, that will cost $360 billion. Appalling maintenance problems mean that only a quarter will be available operationally at any one time. The second biggest project cost for military equipment in Australia’s history is $17 billion for the F 35 fighter jets. Yet the nuclear submarines are easier to detect than modern, smaller, higher quality, conventional ones which are vastly cheaper. To help the British, Albanese has donated $4.6 billion for the profitable company Rolls-Royce to develop nuclear reactors for Australian submarines under the AUKUS pact.

Albanese is in the mould of recent Labor leaders who try to outdo the Coalition over who’s toughest on national security laws. There is no good reason a persuasive leader could not win votes by restoring Australia’s reputation as leading liberal democracy. The bar was set particularly low while Peter Dutton was Home Affairs Minister in 2020. He approached the US Attorney General to allow Australian law enforcement and intelligence organisations to force American communications companies to hand over information on Australian citizens. Dutton failed because the US Cloud Act prohibits the US from entering into a reciprocal agreement with countries which have weaker privacy or civil liberties protections than the US. Australia, to our great shame, does not pass this test. That does not stop most commentators in Australia from making the smug assumption that we still are a liberal democracy.

Albanese’s Home Affairs Minister, Clare O’Neil, now boasts that she has introduced tougher laws to jail people, who haven’t committed a crime, than Dutton did.

With some honourable exceptions, most of the media and the parliament enthusiastically support everything the head of ASIO, Mike Burgess, has to say. Last year, he said that populations were increasing in the Indo Pacific region. The reality is that populations are falling in South Korea, Japan, and China. Although I asked for a correction from ASIO, none was forthcoming.

Albanese encourages the veneration of intelligence agencies. He heaps praise on Andrew Shearer, head of the Office of National Intelligence. Yet it’s hard to discern that there has been any improvement since the former Labor Attorney General and Foreign Minister Gareth Evans has said, that in the 13 years he was in Cabinet “he found little from ASIO and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service that added value to our understanding of what was going on, let alone vital to our security”.

Albanese has not changed the laws which allows secret trials – the hallmark of a totalitarian state. Alan Johns (a pseudonym) is a former Australian intelligence official who was charged, convicted and jailed in complete secrecy in 2018. Not even his mother could be told he was in jail. To her, he had disappeared as if he were living in a South American dictatorship. Johns was hardly a significant “traitor”. He only served 15 months in prison before being released.

In Opposition, Albanese promised an inquiry into the prosecution of Witness K, a technical officer in the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery. Now he is in power, his government has dropped it. Labor’s current Attorney General (AG), Mark Dreyfus, was the AG in the previous Labor government where he issued the initial warrants to ASIO to intercept the phones of Witness K and Collaery.

The then government clearly committed a crime in ordering the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) to enter Timor-Leste on false passports and bug the cabinet offices of that impoverished country to gather commercial information to benefit Woodside Petroleum, a multinational company. This was a grubby case of commercial bugging. No Australian court would allow the government to bug the phones of a company in a commercial dispute with it. Once Timor Leste’s case eventually got to the International Court in the Hague, it won. No law allows ASIS to commit crimes. Nor does the public support what happened to Timor Leste.

Albanese could even win votes by punishing those who committed the crime. He won’t.

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