Where’s the money coming from?

In the Courier-Mail, Stephen Wardill responds to my observation that LNP’s campaign promises don’t add up, and must imply large unnannounced cuts to services, by suggesting that they may instead imply large unnannounced cuts in infrastructure, specifically the Cross-River rail tunnel project. There is a simple way to resolve this: the LNP could say where they plan to cut, and by how much. This idea doesn’t seem to have occurred to Wardill however.

It’s also easy to check that cutting the Cross-River project will go nowhere near filling the gap in the LNP’s promises. The commitment in the last budget was $2 billion, and the total (assuming no Commonwealth funding) is about $5.4 billion over 7 years, with a target completion date of 2024. Scrapping the current budget allocation of $2 billion would barely be enough to pay for the reintroduced Royalties for Regions program, let alone the many other ideas that have been floated. And none of that goes anywhere near achieving the promise of a surplus on fiscal balance.

So, as Robert Menzies famously asked, “Where’s the money coming from?”

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Armistice Day, 2017

Another Armistice Day and the prospects for peace are bleaker than they have been for years. Not only are militaristic demagogues in the ascendancy just about everywhere, but the cult of the military is increasingly unchallenged, even in countries generally seen as peaceable, like Canada. Then there’s the threat of nuclear war posed by a much more capable North Korea, and the erratic responses of the Trump Administration.

It’s a day on which I feel increasingly alone. It seems obvious to me, 100 years after the bloodiest year of war in Australia’s history and the revolutions the war produced, that war and revolution are almost invariably a pointless waste of life and human potential, usually ending in disaster for all, and that even grave historical and social injustices are better resisted by peaceful means than by resort to force. But every military anniversary reminds me that this is the view of a small and shrinking minority.

One day, perhaps, peace will come. But not today.

Why even bother ?

Questioned about the obvious arithmetical impossibility of his promises to increase spending, cut taxes and greatly improve the budget balance, Queensland LNP leader Tim Nicholls had two responses.

First, he claimed that he could balance the books by not renewing some unspecified programs as they aspire and by cutting government advertising expenditure. This is laughable. The savings from discretionary programs expiring in any given year are going to be tiny in relation to the billions Nicholls needs to find annually. As for government advertising, not only are the sums involved relatively modest, but this is a promise routinely made and broken by Opposition parties in just about every election. Nicholls may not like government advertising when Labor does it, but, in office, he was happy to spend $70 million on the Strong Choices asset sales campaign.

More importantly, Nicholls stated that his campaign would release costings by an unnamed accounting firm on 23 November, two days before the election and after lots of people have cast early votes. This is stunning. It’s obvious that the date has been selected to ensure that the costings can’t possibly be checked in time to confront him with the errors it will undoubtedly contain.

He might as well have promised them five minutes before the polls close on election day. Why even bother with such a charade?

The laws of mathematics don’t apply to the LNP

LNP promises don’t add up

It is common for political parties to promise more than they can deliver at election time. Even by the relative lax standards of Australian campaigns, the LNP Plan “Getting Queensland Back in Business” stands out for its unreality. 

The Plan only promises to create 500 000 jobs through a fiscal policy that involves

* Cutting taxes;

* Increasing expenditure; and

* Improving the budget balance

These are all desirable objectives, but it’s a matter of simple arithmetic that all three can’t be achieved at once.

Reductions in revenue

The LNP plan proposes to:

* Increase the payroll tax threshold

* Freeze registration for 6-cylinder cars

*  Write down the value of GOC assets in electricity, and increase competition to drive down prices.  This must entail a reduction in the flow of dividends to the general government sector The LNP has criticised the current governments reliance on dividends from GOCs but has made no suggestion as to how this revenue source will be replaced.

Increased capital expenditure

The LNP Plan proposes a substantial increase in  infrastructure spending.  The strategy implies that spending will be increased by up to $3 billion a year. Explicit commitments of $1.3 billion for water projects and $500 million ‘Royalties for Regions’  are included in the Plan.  The Plan commits to building a new coal fired power station at an unstated costs. It has also been suggested that the M1 will be duplicated at a cost of $2.4 billion

Current expenditure

The LNP plan announces no cuts in current expenditure, other than symbolic targets such as the Safe Schools program and executive bonuses in energy businesses, which would yield minimum savings. The LNP has promised no forced redundancies and has advertised its intention to build schools and hospitals, though without a specific budget. The Plan includes expenditure commitments including a crime action plan, a youth employment plan and assistance for tourism.

Greatly improved budget balance

Following the recommendations of the Costello Commission of Audit, the LNP proposes to target a surplus on fiscal balance rather than, as at present, net operating balance. The difference between the two is net capital investment, currently around $3 – $4 billion. Proposed increases in infrastructure spending would make this difference even greater.

500 000 jobs

As for the 500 000 jobs promise, it turns out to be a simple statistical trick.  In previous election campaigns, it’s been common to commit to employment targets for a three-year term in government.  Nicholls has shifted the goalposts by promising to create the jobs over a period of 10 years, an annual rate of 50 000 jobs a year.  That’s only marginally greater than the rate achieved during the term of the Palaszcuk government. The implied annual rate of growth is 1.9 per cent, again only marginally higher than the rate of growth under recent Labor governments. It would, however, be a significant improvement on the outcome under the Newman government, when less than 50 000 additional jobs were created in a three year term of government.

Summary

Despite Malcolm Turnbull’s recent suggestion to the contrary, the laws of arithmetic apply in Australia and, in particular to Australian governments. The promises made by the LNP can be delivered only through large, unannounced cuts in general government expenditure. This is consistent with the strategy adopted by the Newman government in 2012, and by the Abbott government in 2013. 

Here’s a fine mess

The great citizenship debacle rolls on, and it’s hard to see anyone coming out of it looking good.

The primary blame goes to the High Court which decided to use an absurdly literal interpretation of the Constitution to knock out a couple of independent candidates back in the 1990s (they’d been naturalised but hadn’t properly revoked their previous citizenship). If the first person to fall afoul of this interpretation had been a senior government minister, I have no doubt the Court would have decided differently. But literalism and precedent are a disastrous combination.
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