Voters shouldn’t have to study the fine print on politicians’ promises

Cranking a certain megastar songwriter’s playlist has Matthew Abraham considering why state and federal politicians believe it’s okay to pull a swiftie on voters.

Feb 16, 2024, updated Feb 16, 2024
Premier Peter Malinauskas knows about promises - here he is in Canberra last week pushing the Federal Government to provide the continuous shipbuilding promised to South Australians. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

Premier Peter Malinauskas knows about promises - here he is in Canberra last week pushing the Federal Government to provide the continuous shipbuilding promised to South Australians. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

All you are is mean
And a liar, and pathetic
And alone in life, and mean
And mean, and mean, and mean.

So ends Taylor Swift’s song called, funnily enough, “Mean”.

It sounds better than it looks.

I had toyed with writing an entire column on politics using just lyrics from the global pop supernova’s back catalogue.

With The Advertiser traipsing a life-size cardboard cut-out of Ms Swift around various Adelaide locations, it seemed worth a crack at tapping into the vibe.

As a Baby Boomer raised on a diet of The Seekers, Roger Whittaker, Cat Stevens, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, I do occasionally like to stretch my musical horizons.

Lady Ga Ga’s “Come to Mama” and “Shallow” are brilliant.

Her performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration was ethereal. It still gives me goosebumps, washing away the ugly vanity of the Trump presidency, for a while at least.

Despite streaming almost the entire “Taylor Swift Essentials” playlist while driving to and from the Outer Harbor boat ramp on Monday, the concept proved a bridge too far.

Maybe the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, but I decided to shake it off.

But “Mean” did strike a chord.

It captures the mean trick politicians so often play on the people who trust them to keep a promise.

Our major political parties have developed a nasty habit of promising big in election campaigns, then insisting voters should have read the fine print.

They’re treating us like mugs.

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas valiantly tried this switcheroo when explaining that he never really promised to “fix ramping”, but instead meant he’d fix ambulance response times.

After this flimsy excuse made him look silly, he and his struggling Health Minister Chris Picton resorted to the fine print.

They argue that their policy promised to fix ramping in this term of government. Two years down, two to go. Plenty of time.

They look like rank amateurs compared to Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Big Lie on the Stage Three tax cuts.

Repeatedly, in interview after interview, week in and week out, he promised black and blue to deliver them. He even uttered the immortal line: “My word is my bond.”.

He and his Treasurer Jim Chalmers have now broken that promise, changing the legislated Stage Three tax scales to deliver modest tax relief to “every Australian worker”.

In the process, they’ve kept the dreaded 37c in the dollar tax scale that was going to be abolished, reduced the planned expansion of the 30c rate and lowered the 47c tax threshold from $200,000 to $180,000.

It won’t take long for bracket creep – the term for workers being pushed by inflation into higher tax brackets – to claw back the PM’s $ 15-a-week tax cut, in spades.

The PM might say he wasn’t telling porkies to the Australian public. But he was.

He says he is honest. Not on this central pledge, he wasn’t.

Now the duo is reassuring Australian property investors they won’t scrap or change negative gearing on investment properties, despite pressure from the Greens.

They’re deploying the same weasel words they used to con voters on the Stage Three backflip.

On the ABC’s Sunday night news bulletin, Treasurer Chalmers said the only tax reform being considered was the Stage Three changes.

On changes to negative gearing, he said: “That’s not something we’re proposing. Not something that we’re considering. Not something we’re working up.”

How about trying a different form of words, like: “No, we will not change negative gearing or capital gains tax”?

As Greens leader Adam Bandt, the cheerleader-in-chief for scrapping negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions, put it: “Labor says no, no, no, no, yes. And everything is impossible until it’s not.”

He sounded like he was channelling the character Jim Trott’s trademark “no, no, no, no, yes” from The Vicar of Dibley, but you wouldn’t put Bandt down as a Dibley fan.

In parliament, the PM said of negative gearing: “It stands on its own and on its merit.”

What does that even mean?

Deep down, we all suspect Labor lusts after the rivers of cash flowing to property investors through tax concessions.

The Australian’s Simon Benson this week wrote that it’s a matter of when, and not if, Labor goes after negative gearing.

He argues it fits with Chalmers’ thesis on “remaking capitalism”, leveraging the massive wealth of union-controlled superannuation funds to remodel the economy.

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Treasurer Jim Chalmers might have broadened tax cuts – but it’s still a broken promise. Photo: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Driving mum and dad investors from the housing market opens the door to the union super funds to control the nation’s rental stock, a nice low-risk, high-yield little earner that amounts to a de facto nationalisation of the private housing market.

This may or may not be a good thing. Who knows?

But if you’re a Treasurer who thinks it’s a goer, at least have the balls to argue your case honestly and transparently to the Australian public.

Labor knows the words “negative gearing” are kryptonite in a nation where roughly 2.24 million taxpayers are property investors, collectively owning 3.25 million investment properties.

That’s an incredible number, driven almost entirely by the negative gearing carrot.

Many politicians are enthusiastic property investors, including the tut-tutting Greens.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported last year that Parliament’s registers of members’ and senators’ interests reveal that seven of the Greens’ 15 MPs and their spouses own 14 investment properties between them.

SA’s Liberal leader David Speirs owns 13. One wonders how he finds the time.

Back home, and the Malinauskas-led Labor Government is expecting voters to yet again dust off their magnifying glasses to read the fine print of another big and popular election pledge – delivering government pre-school for three-year-olds.

This week, Education Minister Blair Boyer announced the government’s response to the Royal Commission it set up into early childhood education and care – headed by former PM Julia Gillard.

He said the government is “taking immediate action to begin building the workforce required to deliver three-year-old preschool and expanded Out of Hours School Care”.

The “immediate action” is an “unprecedented investment of $56 million to develop and support the early childhood education and care workforce”.

Helpfully, the Opposition pointed out that the government’s election policy document promised to “offer three-year-old preschool to all children in South Australia from 2026”.

On social media, the SA Labor account got on its high horse.

“You’ve been trying this tired old claim for well over a year now,” they sniffed. “Our policy document released before the election stated roll-out of 3yo pre-school would commence in 2026, which is what we are doing.”

It added: “A policy document is something you release when you have policies”.

Well, yes and no. A policy document is the fine print most voters don’t read.

What they see is the big promise. The big promise was to offer three-year-old preschool to all SA kiddies from 2026.

That’s a different message to a “roll-out” that would “commence in 2026”.

In his media release this week, Boyer didn’t set any timeline for the “roll-out”.

It’s quite clear the government isn’t even close to having the trained workforce it needs to deliver its promise.

By comparison, the former Marshall Government’s then Education Minister John Gardner delivered the Liberal policy promise of shifting Year 7s from primary to secondary schools from go to whoa inside its oncer four-year term in office.

It was a complex, watershed reform, long resisted by Labor, achieved through the turmoil of COVID, with little fuss.

Raising people’s hopes, then lowering their expectations, isn’t just mean. It’s pulling a swiftie.

Matthew Abraham is InDaily’s political columnist. Matthew can be found on Twitter as @kevcorduroy. It’s a long story.

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