Having been active in Australian policy debate for around fifteen years, its sobering to realise that I can only identify one issue where I’m confident I’ve had a significant impact on the ultimate outcome. That topic was the subject of my first column in the Financial Review, called Fightback without the Food Tax (for those who weren’t around at the time, Fightback! was John Hewson’s manifesto for the 1993 election, centred on a GST). Not only did Hewson eventually incorporate an exemption for food in his GST proposal (too late to turn around the perception that he was a dogmatic ideologue) but the Democrats accepted the view and imposed it on Howard. This was something of a Pyhrric victory as far as I was concerned, though. While I thought, and still think, a GST with an exemption for food made good public policy, the New Tax System package as a whole was not a good deal and should have been rejected.
At a much more marginal level, I think one of my columns might have had an impact on the campaign this weekend. In this piece in mid-September, I argued that the Howard government had plenty to gain, and nothing to lose, from ratifying Kyoto. Now it turns out that, at about the same time, Malcolm Turnbull was making the same case in Cabinet, unsuccessfully of course. The leak of this revelation has given Howard another day or two of bad headlines. Of course, the argument is obvious, and Turnbull is quite sharp enough to work it out for himself. Still, it does make the effort of turning out a column every fortnight seem a little bit more worthwhile.