Plenty has been written over the past week or so about the clearing of the decks by the Prime Minister that appears to have taken place in advance of the budget and the highly anticipated election campaign to come. In particular, critics have been scathing over the government’s decision to defer reconsideration of an emissions trading scheme until sometime in the next term when parliamentary conditions are expected to be somewhat more favourable. The argument goes that the Prime Minister has shown that he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions.
Enter the Resource Super Profits Tax, and a battle with big business that the government did not have to have.
That is, the battle a less courageous government would have avoided entirely.
Lined up against the government now are virtually all of the forces of capital in Australia (is it old fashioned to refer to them collectively as ‘capital’? And if so, how do we talk about a capitalist system?).
Businesses, both large and small, are anxious, amongst other things, about the changes to superannuation.
Mining companies are outraged by the notion that the government should address a contribution to government revenue that appears to decline in inverse proportion to the size of their profits.
The media appears almost uniformly against the government.
There are two interesting things about this last point, I think. Firstly, I’ve got the impression that part of the reason a section of the Australian media are against Kevin Rudd is because he is perceived as being no more than ‘Howard Lite’. These journalists have contributed to an ongoing mockery – if not more – of the Prime Minister which has led to diminishing support for the government. If these journalists wake up the day after the election with Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, I’m almost certain they will take no responsibility for it whatsoever.
Secondly, the Resources Super Profits Tax is the kind of measure that should appeal to the same readership to whom the Daily Telegraph recently touted its line about increases on taxes on tobacco being a hit to the workers of Australia. That is, this policy can be characterized (whether or not it should) as exactly the kind of nationalist economic policy that should find ardent support from tabloid media outlets, if they’re being honest with the constituency readership they purport to cater to.
The forces now arraigned against the government over these economic measures are about as strong a cross-section of traditional anti-Labor economic and social players as we’ve ever seen, which is funny because ‘traditional Labor values’ and ‘Rudd government’ aren’t terms I can attest to having read in the same sentence too often, at least not in any way that suggested they were synonymous. Perhaps most potentially devastating is the evaporation of virtually all media support for the government. It’s a funny old world where Labor supporters are left crying out for objectivity in the ABC instead of defending it against allegations of left wing bias. I hope that self-aggrandizement by MPs and staffers believing the hype didn’t contribute to this antipathy.
It’s this unity of business and media forces which, for me, points to a parallel with the anti-native title campaign fought in Western Australia in 1996. Relevantly, one of the key campaigners against Labor was big mining companies.
Ultimately this Resource Super Profits Tax could be the issue that finally resolves the question that has been asked – appropriately or not – about the Prime Minister’s commitment to battling out the tough fights. Clearly his opponents aren’t backing down in a hurry. If this is going to be the ground on which we fight the next election, let’s make sure we’re fighting all the way.