Stage three cancer

The most surprising part of the 2019 election was that Scott Morrison won it. This solitary fact does more than any other to explain the stage three tax cuts now being imposed by Labor.

Morrison promised those cuts without ever believing he would be in office to deliver them. He could have promised a pony to everyone earning more than $180,000 a year and it would have had as much consequence in his mind.

Throughout the campaign, Morrison refused to release a breakdown of how much the cuts would benefit the rich. He ignored requests for Treasury advice. Possibly there was none. Why get advice on something you think will never happen?

The figures now available are appalling. The stage three cuts will take $243 billion out of government revenues over the next decade. Overwhelmingly this will go to the richest Australians. It will benefit almost twice as many men as women.

“This is a win tonight not for the government, not for the Liberal or National parties,” Morrison said when the tax package passed three years ago.

“This is a win for those hardworking Australians quietly going about their lives.”

Even as Labor voted for the cuts in the senate, it described them as “irresponsible”. It tried unsuccessfully to split the bill – to pass cuts for lower- and middle-income earners but not the third stage cuts for the super-rich.

Labor’s argument at the time was clear – these cuts were unfair and unaffordable. They would undermine the country’s capacity to provide for health and education. They would not – despite four decades of trickle-down lies – stimulate the economy.

Labor knows this is bad policy. It knows these cuts will make the country worse. It is going to destroy its capacity to fund reform, simply to make good on a bad faith promise made by someone else.

Albanese approaches this like Romeo drinking poison, although he knows Juliet is only sleeping. There is no dramatic irony, just the idiocy of doing something everybody says you shouldn’t. When pushed, he says he promised.

Labor talks about amendments it tried to make when the package was passed. It says it lost that debate. Albanese says: “We made those statements then and we weren’t successful.” And then: “People need to look at what happened with the tax cuts, which were that we actually tried to amend out the stage three of the tax cuts and we weren’t successful. And they were legislated.” And then: “We made those comments on the basis that we weren’t successful in what we put forward. We failed by just one vote to make a difference there.”

The sense of defeat here is extraordinary. Something happened three years ago and Labor’s response now is, “We tried our best.” The fear of betraying a promise is causing Labor to betray the country. Someone should remind the party it just won an election.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 3, 2022 as "Stage three cancer".

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