A cut above the rest?

The Coalition wants to have its tax cut and eat it too

Following much speculation, the Coalition has made the call: it will try to amend Labor’s overwhelmingly popular changes to the Stage Three tax cuts but will ultimately pass them, in a move colourfully known in Canberra aa “bitch and fold”. It has become increasingly obvious this was where the Opposition would end up; to vote down the legislation would have opened it up to claims it was against tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners, given that the vast majority of them will be better off under the government’s reforms. In a midday press conference, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton made clear that although he was folding, he was not done bitching, foreshadowing the theme of today’s Question Time by labelling Anthony Albanese “the liar in the Lodge”. “We are supporting this change not to support the prime minister’s lie, but to support those families who need help now,” the Liberal leader told reporters. Dutton is no doubt eager to make this distinction. But how can the Coalition continue to argue that these changes are a terrible betrayal of the Australian people, while also voting to pass them? 

That, of course, is one of those unanswerable questions, the kind regularly posed by the Coalition’s illogical stances. The wedgers have become the wedgees, now that Labor has found a recalibration in which everyone gets a tax cutand everyone except the top 10 per cent are better off, aa time when average earners (many of whom live in Coalition seats) truly need help. The government has worked hard to argue its case. But the Coalition has made little effort to be consistent in its approach. Every media interview has been more confusing than the last, as members of the Opposition try to argue for the old cuts, claiming Labor’s promise to retain the previously legislated cuts was supposed to be rock-solid, even while indicating they will vote for a reversal because the changes are needed. “If you’re a drowning man you’ve reached for a life raft, no matter what that life raft is,” said shadow finance minister Jane Hume on RN Breakfast yesterday, all but admitting, as host Patricia Karvelas noted, that people would be left drowning under the Coalition’s policy.

In essence, they want to have their tax cut and eat it too, trying to score a point against the government for “breaking a promise”, even as they back in that broken promise.

The government has been having a field day with the Coalition’s internal struggle, with observers remarking that the PM has a newfound spring in his step. Speaking to reporters this morning ahead of the first sitting day of the year, Albanese’s eagerness was evident in his mixed metaphors, claiming the Libs were both “tightening the screws on themselves” and “tying themselves in knots” over Stage Three. It was Labor on the attack in Question Time despite the Opposition’s best efforts to make the session about negative gearing, with members of the government using their answers to prosecute the Coalition’s ambivalence on the tax cuts. “If you support the changes, why are you so angry?” mocked Leader of the House Tony Burke, noting the Coalition’s fury was “on display for all of Australia to see”.

Indeed, the inherent contradictions involved in the Coalition strategy of appealing to the “working class” while remaining ideologically aligned with the rich are becoming starkly apparent. As Redbridge pollster and former Labor strategist Kos Samaras noted last week, after Nationals leader David Littleproud lamented the impact upon those on over $190k, “they really do need to work out which class they want to represent going forward”. The Coalition wants average income earners to believe they are in their corner, but the truth is written all over their faces, as they continue to complain that those at the top have missed out on a few extra thousand dollars.

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