9 September 2013
The Australian Financial Review
Tony Abbott’s first week as prime minister-elect will be busier than the last frenzied week of the campaign, if he is to complete a lengthy “to-do” list, including swearing in his new ministry and halting government loans to the private sector.
His greatest obstacle will be negotiating with a hostile Senate controlled by Labor and the Greens, to repeal some of the former Labor government’s signature policies.
His greatest temptation, government experts said, will be rushing new policies in his first three months and repeating the expensive mistakes of the early Rudd government.
The Coalition has divided its election promises into items to be dealt with in the first week of government, the first 100 days, the first term and, ambitiously, the first decade. The public service was scrambling last week to get a head start on the tasks of the new government, which has nominated the repeal of the mining tax and the carbon tax as its first priorities.
“We’ve all been working on the Blue Book [the incoming government brief] but not so much the Red Book [a returning government brief] – we probably just changed the dates,” one public servant said. Studying the Blue Books of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and those of Treasury and Finance will be Mr Abbott’s first job, before he gets on with implementing the “day one” commitments he has promised since losing the 2010 election.
Most of the tasks in the early days will be instructing public servants on a course of action. This includes drafting the legislation to repeal the mining tax and carbon tax, stopping the Clean Energy Finance Corporation from making loans, withdrawing regulations covering changes to the fringe benefits tax on fleet cars, suspending the forest reserve set aside under the forestry peace deal agreement, and taking steps to establish a commission of audit to review government finances.
At least a dozen Coalition policies will be put in train in the first 100 days of government, which means before December 17. Some policies have to wait. ACIL Allen executive director Stephen Bartos said the Coalition would only be able to introduce legislation to abolish the carbon tax and mining tax into the House of Representatives before December 17 (100 days) because the Senate, with its current make-up, would still reject them.
If the Coalition succeeds in gaining control of the Senate after the election, it will have to wait until after the new Senate starts on July 1, 2014, before it can reintroduce controversial measures into Parliament.
“In the Senate, the Coalition would argue they have a mandate but the minor parties would argue they were elected to keep a check on all this stuff,” Mr Bartos said.
The Coalition will keep the public service busy with the long list of white papers and inquiries it has promised over the past three years.
It has promised to begin, in its first 100 days, a Productive Commission inquiry into childcare, a judicial inquiry into the home insulation scheme, a taxation white paper, a northern Australia white paper, energy white paper and a banking and financial services inquiry. Mr Abbott also wants to start paying Australian overseas terrorism victims compensation of up to $75,000 each, within the first 100 days.
Mr Bartos said the list was achievable as long as the government did not insist on reports being delivered within 100 days.
“White papers are tricky because they require time and effort, and it depends if there is any consultation before it goes to cabinet,” he said.
The Rudd government produced a 55-page book in 2008 detailing his government’s achievements in its first 100 days, but many of the economic stimulus programs were later criticised for being rushed and poorly implemented.
The Australian Catholic University’s Institute of Public Policy executive director, Scott Prasser, said governments do “stupid things when they rush”.
“I don’t like or support the idea of the first 100 days of government, the 100 days of action,” Professor Prasser said.
In Britain, the Wilson government was the first to declare 100 days of action, but many of the policies were later dropped.
The Howard government waited until its first budget before making sweeping changes.
“This sort of thing drives false expectations and an activity-driven agenda rather than policy-driven,” Professor Prasser said.
“I would prefer 100 days of reflection rather than 100 days of action.”
Courtesy of The Australian Financial Review
9 September 2013