Abbott government's debt levy approved
Coalition's proposed debt levy has been approved, potentially sending the Abbott government's credibility to new lows. Nine NewsPT1M29S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-37vau 620 349 May 7, 2014
Tony Abbott has had an epiphany on tax and now accepts he should never have promised not to increase them when in opposition. We know this because he is backing a "temporary" tax rise to accelerate the deficit deletion process.
More importantly, he recognises that not all taxes are bad and that tax policy can be used in a genuinely redistributive way – which is to say, to impose fairness. Who knew?
Broken promise: Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Bill Shorten could acknowledge this largely positive development and give the Prime Minister the leeway needed to backtrack.
Don't hold your breath on that score though.
As one of the most effective opposition leaders in living memory and one who came to be called "Dr No", Abbott knows he has no right to either seek nor expect such magnanimity from his opponents.
Yet there is an argument to say he should receive it anyway.
Why? Because the ALP's understandable sense of schadenfreude and revenge are not sound bases for public policy.
And neither is the selfish strategic advantage to be gained by indelibly marking out Abbott as untrustworthy, although as Abbott himself showed with Julia Gillard, it's one hell of an advantage if you can pull it off.
There is an immediate parallel here with Gillard's "no carbon tax" pledge.
It, too, was a post-election response to the governmental realities of life after winning – albeit in a minority government sense.
Its motivations were reasonable and were even consistent with a bipartisan commitment to reduce carbon pollution output by at least 5 per cent on year 2000 levels by 2020.
Yet for all that, Abbott knew he had struck political gold right there, in the space between Gillard's clear no-carbon-tax promise and the agreement she struck to impose a three-year fixed price period.
In both cases, the policy merits of the turn-about were instantly obscured, slave to the unhelpful strictures of cowardly, self-imposed election promises still ringing in the voters' ears.
Shorten cannot be blamed for feeling aggrieved. He is eyeing what could be the critical flaw in the Abbott government's entire being: the personal credibility of the Prime Minister with voters. The Labor leader knows his chances of becoming prime minister – early as 2016 even – could well turn on how ruthlessly he makes that stick.
The deficit tax is such a clear case of breaking an iron-clad commitment that no opposition leader would give it up.
Which is a pity because it is near enough to be good policy.