Friday, May 24, 2019

Bob Edlin: What Bridges can learn from Australia


Just  as  Australians  are  absorbing the   lessons  of  Scott Morrison’s  “miraculous” return from the electoral dead, New  Zealanders  are  being told by  a prominent   Wellington  economist  Ganesh Nana  he  fears  the   Ardern government  is  about  to  back down  from “meaningful economic  reform”.

Yet across  the Tasman   it  was  the  “ambitious”   economic reforms proposed   by   Federal  Labor  leader  Bill  Shorten   which delivered the crushing  blow   of   losing  what the pundits   called the  “unloseable” election.
Labour  in   NZ   is  probably   congratulating  itself  that  it  has   dropped  a  broad  capital   gains tax   not  just  from  its current  programme  but  for the future.For it  is clear  many  Australian  voters  rejected   Shorten’s  plan for  a   giant  tax grab across  the   economic spectrum   and  allowed   Scott Morrison to  play  mercilessly  the  line  “the  Bill  you  can’t  afford”.

Labor underestimated,    as  one  Australian pundit   put it,  the downside of
… mucking around with the aspirations of middle Australia [through negative gearing and capital gains tax changes that stirred anxiety about falling house prices]. I think this would be the last time that the Labor Party goes anywhere near people’s homes.”
 Shorten  also   proposed  to  remove    tax  credits  on   retirees’  investment   income,   itself a   killer for  Labor’s  hopes  in    winning  several  crucial   seats  in Queensland.
Another Australian  pundit   summed it up:
I think part of the problem was that the tax measures Labor was putting forward … were too much for the electorate to accept and digest in one go, which had made it easier for the Coalition to go relentlessly negative”.
If there were lessons  for   Labour in  NZ   from across  the  Tasman, there were   as  many    for   National.   The  first:  uppermost   in  the minds of  most electors  as they enter  the  ballot   box,  “it’s the  economy, stupid”   as  Bill Clinton  memorably insisted.
Morrison,  who  had  served    as   Federal  Treasurer   before  succeeding   Malcolm Turnbull  as  leader,   impressed  with  his mastery  of  the  economic detail,  compared with Shorten, who  had the  deadweight of  his  trade union  links   to  de-power  his  ability  to  match  Morrison  in the  one-to-one debates.     Can Simon  Bridges learn  from  this?
Former Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger said:
“Scott Morrison’s genius was to focus heavily on the working middle class, as well as retirees. He appealed to aspirational families and voters. Shorten looked like the dead hand of tax and intuitively, people thought, ‘What evidence is there that this bloke has any idea how to grow the economic pie?’
This too could be a  crucial   issue  in    NZ’s  next  election.  Labour in  NZ   is shifting its focus to “well-being”, some say, at the expense of economic growth.
But if the   programmes  to  advance  well-being  are  no better  formulated  and    undertaken than KiwiBuild has been, then  there  is   an  enormous  opportunity opening up for  National.  Throwing vast sums into policies like “affordable” homes,  reducing drug addiction, domestic violence  and   sexual  abuse,   without   the   skills  available  in both the bureaucracy   and   the community  to  produce the   intended   results,  is a  high  risk  for  any  government.
So   too  with  climate   change.   As  the  Australian campaign   showed,    grandiose   ideas  to  counter   global   warming   didn’t   resonate with most  voters,  apart from the  global warming fanatics.   Shorten’s  inability    to  give any costings   for  his climate  change   policies  provided his opponent with easy victories in their face-to-face televised debates.
And  Labor’s   close  association with the Greens, who  campaigned  on  closing   Australia’s  coal  mines   (its  largest  export industry),  proved disastrous in   the  regional  mining electorates,  particularly  in  Queensland.
National should   draw  the  lesson  here   that  it  should be   campaigning  hard to counter   the  propaganda  of  climate change   activists  that   the  world  faces  extinction  if   NZ    doesn’t  shut  down  its  dairy  industry.
Where National in the past has taken  for granted the  dairying  regions — places   like  the  Waikato, Taranaki,  Southland and Canterbury —  as its  own  strongholds,  it  needs  to ensure it has  top-rated  candidates    campaigning  hard to  squeeze   the party   vote   as    high  as   possible.
National    cannot    afford the luxury  of    its  own supporters    splitting   their votes  between   their own  candidates and  some other party.
Even more it should   be  strongly    focussed  on    mining  regions like  Westland   (for   coal)  and  Taranaki   (for  gas ) — as   the   Australian  Coalition   parties  did,   particularly  in Queensland,  to  persuade   highly paid  miners to desert  their  blue-collar  origins  and   vote  against  Labor.
The Green   Party, as Labour’s  partner  in   NZ,  is  already   showing   how  negative  it  can  be  to   economic  impacts   with  Eugenie  Sage’s   decision  to   ban   Oceana   Gold from  acquiring   territory  for   tailings    from  its  Waihi mine, an action  that could deprive hundreds of workers  of    worthwhile   livelihoods.
Finally  the  polls:   the   Australian   pundits   offered  a range  of   views to explain why  the public polling organisations for   the best of three  years   had the  Liberal- National  coalition  trailing   Labor.  And    even when the  polls  showed a  narrow   lead,  there  was  nothing to   suggest  the   quirky  outcomes   in  places  like   Wentworth and   Warringah,  let alone those  in  Tasmania  and  Queensland.
But  it  does    suggest   Simon  Bridges   doesn’t   have to pay    much  attention  to   why the   public  polls are    rating  him   so poorly.   He’ll do  much better   if he absorbs and  applies the  lessons from  across the  ditch.
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.

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