Malcolm Turnbull: "If elected, the Coalition will restore budget discipline." Photo: Richard Briggs
Three years ago on Tuesday, the Sydney Morning Herald supported the Labor Party receiving a second term of government. The Herald's editorial stance at the 2010 election was based on three important commitments from the Labor Party. The first was to build the national broadband network. The second was to return the budget to surplus. And the third was to increase defence funding to improve our national security and relationships with key allies.
We have a clearly articulated plan to improve our nation by pursuing the values at the core of the Liberal tradition.
Three years later, Labor has comprehensively failed to deliver against all three undertakings. Let's examine the facts on each.
Far from building a national broadband network, Labor has failed against every benchmark set for this troubled project. In December 2010, just three months after hanging onto minority government with the backing of crossbench MPs, Labor released the NBN Co corporate plan. It stated that by June 2013, more than 1.7 million households and businesses would be able to connect to the NBN – and its fibre optic network would have 511,000 users.
Well, we now know the NBN only managed to make broadband available at one in seven of the premises it promised and its fibre network had just 33,600 users in June. Despite Labor writing the largest blank cheque in our history to NBN Co, there are still 2 million premises across Australia with such a poor connection they can't watch a YouTube video – the same as in 2010. Under the Coalition, in contrast, Australians without access to fast broadband will receive an upgraded service by the end of 2016 and the NBN will be finished in 2019, years sooner than under Labor and at far less expense to taxpayers.
Between 2010 and 2013, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan promised that they would have the budget back in surplus more than 600 times – even though Labor hasn't delivered a surplus since before Queensland MP Wyatt Roy was born. Once again, reality proved very different to spin. Last year's $18 billion budget deficit is forecast to blow out to a $30 billion deficit this year. Since 2007, Labor has delivered the five largest deficits in our history, in the course of spending $192 billion more than it received.
If elected, the Coalition will restore budget discipline, axe wasteful spending and get the budget back in the black as soon as we responsibly can.
The final Labor commitment that helped it gain this newspaper's support in 2010 was on defence, where the Herald argued Labor had “performed well”.
Well, since the 2010 election the Labor government has slashed between $21 billion and $25 billion from the defence budget through deferments, cuts, delays and cancellations – reducing defence spending to its lowest share of gross domestic product since 1937. In 2012-13 alone outlays were cut by 10 per cent to plug Labor's gaping budget black hole – the largest reduction in a single year since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The 2013-14 budget will reduce the share of GDP spent on defence to just 1.49 per cent, leaving our allies wondering why Australia is no longer willing to shoulder its fair share of the cost of maintaining a credible defence force.
In 2010 the Herald asked an important question that comes up at every election: “who do you trust?” Well, the past three years have seen the Labor Party mired in acrimony and self-obsessed infighting. Gillard may be gone but Labor is still riddled with hatreds, rivalries and animosities that have no comparison in our modern political history. Meanwhile the NSW branch of the Labor Party continues to search for an explanation of how it ended up providing support and succour for what prosecutors argue are some of the most corrupt and venal acts ever seen in our political system.
By contrast the Coalition is a united and stable team. We have a proven track record of disciplined economic management and consistent budget surpluses, which is what is needed to restore business and consumer confidence. We have a clearly articulated plan to improve our nation by pursuing the values at the core of the Liberal tradition: more choice for families, less burdensome regulation and taxes for business and efficient and competent government.
The Herald has no traditional allegiance to any political party. In days gone by, its masthead used to carry Alexander Pope's famous maxim: “In moderation placing all my glory, while Tories call me Whig, and Whigs a Tory.”
Back in 2010, after calling for Labor to get a second chance, the Herald's editorial stated there was “no straightforward choice” between Labor and the Coalition, before concluding: “We will be back in three years – and then we will be able to truly and fairly judge [Labor] and we will be able to do so in the light of experience, not simply the campaign.”
What a long three years it has been, and judgment day is almost upon us. This time around could the choice be more straightforward? Measured by comparing promises and results, that second chance for Labor was a costly error. Australians should not take the risk of giving them a third.
Malcolm Turnbull is the opposition spokesman on communications and broadband.