When Joe Hockey was growing up and dreaming of becoming prime minister, he would not have imagined that his dream would lead him to joining a bomb disposal unit. Tomorrow, he will unveil the first bomb he must dismantle and it is almost nuclear in its capacity for destruction.
At 12.30 on Tuesday, Hockey, who has also been the stand-out thespian of the new federal parliament, will unveil the real horror, dysfunction and narcissism of Kevin Rudd's contribution to Australian political history, disably assisted by Julia Gillard. Hockey will release the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook, known in the trade as MYEFO, which will show a budget deficit much worse than Labor led us to believe, probably close to $50 billion, debt obligations much higher than Labor led us to believe, and unfunded liabilities that are so irresponsibly crushing the government will have to walk away from many of them. The most monumental folly is the National Broadband Network, whose economic rationale was worked out on a piece of paper by Rudd. The scheme subsequently created by former communications minister Stephen Conroy would cost more than $70 billion and never recover its cost of capital. The Abbott government will have to start again.
They have engaged in scorched-earth, rearguard, morally bankrupt obstructionism as if the election was a meaningless exercise.
Rudd also authorised the spying on the President of Indonesia and his wife, a booby trap that duly exploded in the face of his Coalition successor. Rudd also poisoned the relationship with China, with his lectures to Beijing, which has also come back to haunt the Coalition government. Then came Gillard, who directed a decisive shift of funding and power to the unions. She exposed the Commonwealth to a massive unfunded financial obligation for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Set to release the MYEFO on Tuesday: Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Andrew Meares
She provided political cover for the disgraced union official Craig Thomson. And she set up and then stacked the Fair Work Australia bureaucracy with former union officials and Labor lawyers.
Labor booby-trapped the future.
It is also busy booby-trapping the present, putting improvised explosive devices everywhere, with the help of the Greens. Together, they have engaged in scorched-earth, rearguard, morally bankrupt obstructionism as if the 2013 federal election was a meaningless exercise, the will of the people has no moral authority, and the idea of a mandate, delivered by the only poll that matters, is an empty ideal to be ignored. The worst among equals in this cynicism are Labor's leader, Bill Shorten, his deputy, Tanya Plibersek, and the Minister for Gutter, Anthony Albanese, assisted by the deputy leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt.
Contrast their scorched-earth cynicism with the response of the defeated Coalition government in 2007, when it conceded the public had rejected its Work Choices industrial relations policies and Labor had a mandate to create what would become Fair Work Australia. This was the great issue in 2007 (after the unions spent millions to make it so) just as the carbon tax and curbing people-smuggling were the great issues of 2013.
For the past year the Coalition restricted itself to a small but emphatic range of policies that clearly differentiated it from Labor: repeal the carbon tax, repeal the mining tax, re-introduce temporary protection visas (which closed off asylum status), re-introduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission and end Labor's deficit spending. This was the message. These policies became the mandate when Labor was thrown out of office in a landslide and the Greens suffered an even more emphatic 28 per cent plunge in their vote and lost the balance of power in the Senate.
And what do we get? Labor and the Greens opposing all four mandates, and everything else, and some of Labor's booby traps already exploding. Rudd's authorising of spying on Indonesia's President and his wife blew up on Tony Abbott, who suffered further damage as he doggedly covered up for Labor. Labor's multi-billion-dollar expansion into school education, a state issue, also exploded when Education Minister Christopher Pyne ineptly fumbled his attempt to rein in its costs and impositions.
The government must now wait until July 1 next year, when the new Senate is sworn in, and hope the independents and the eccentric Palmer United Party senators are more moral and pragmatic than the Greens, who think 8 per cent is a moral majority and a mandate to obstruct everything. Everything, that is, except removing the debt ceiling, where the Greens sided with the government, but only because they feared if they did not the government would start slashing spending with a chainsaw.
The key figures in dealing with Labor's booby traps are Hockey and Eric Abetz, the leader of the government in the Senate. Hockey has shown the most ticker in dealing with debt and deficit, and Senator Abetz has carriage of the crucial reform agenda in industrial relations. After Hockey, he has the most bombs to defuse.
Crucially, in addition to restoring the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and tackling the tainted culture of Fair Work Australia, Senator Abetz must navigate the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill into law. This is the bill that will drag the unions out of the 19th century. It establishes an independent watchdog, the Registered Organisations Commission, with powers modelled on those of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, to bring union governance into line with corporate governance.
The bill is designed to create a stronger, cleaner and more transparent union sector.
Labor and the Greens are opposing the bill at every step.