20 May 2019

Morrison method to drive Canberra Liberals' 2020 campaign

| Ian Bushnell
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The Liberals’ tax truck with Andrew Barr’s face on the back. Plenty of mileage left in this one.

ACT Labor may have bucked the Federal trend to bathe the territory in red, but the Canberra Liberals can take heart from Senator Zed Seselja’s repelling of challenges from the Greens and Anthony Pesec, but more importantly from the ruthlessly simple and highly effective Morrison campaign.

No doubt it will be the blueprint for next year’s ACT poll, and indeed the ‘tax truck’ has already been rolled out as part of the Federal campaign and will be a prominent prop in 2020.

Public transport will also likely be a focal point with the $1.6 billion cost of light rail Stage 2 to Woden feeding into the rates debate, as well as what will be simmering discontent about the new bus network.

The federal campaign was almost a dry run for 2020, with the central theme of tax attempting to exploit ratepayer unease about rate rises under the Barr Government.

We can expect a full throttle attack on Andrew Barr’s 20-year tax reforms that have seen residential rates soar since 2012, with the trade-off being the winding back of inefficient taxes such as stamp duty.

However the rate of that windback doesn’t appear to have matched the pace of rate rises, and ratepayer perceptions are based more on their rates notices than the less visible benefits.

Every economist in the land might commend Mr Barr for recalibrating the tax system to provide a firmer financial footing for the Territory but the Liberals will be telling Canberrans we told you so, harking back to the Seselja-led campaign in 2012.

They will also put a target on Mr Barr, emulating the Kill Bill tactics of the federal party. Slippery, untrustworthy and a liar is the kind of language that he will continue to face. As Scott Morrison said almost cheerily of Bill Shorten during the campaign, “He lies all the time.”

But Mr Barr won’t be going anywhere, now vowing to stay on as Chief Minister after previous suggestions that he might move on.

Whether he faces Opposition Leader Alistair Coe is debatable because the other lesson from the election result is the value of having a leader who can sell the message clearly and believably. Former radio man Mark Parton might be a better fit for the role.

With Federal Labor still on the outer, so too may be light rail Stage 2. No promised $200 million from Bill Shorten and the Commonwealth approvals process now becomes decidedly thorny.

Senator Seselja may not have been unable to wield enough influence to protect Public Service jobs but with an ACT election looming and the local Liberals needing a campaign plank to underline its rates campaign, we may see fresh Commonwealth concerns about the environment and heritage of the Parliamentary Zone even with the new more direct route via State Circle, or about the lake crossing at Commonwealth Avenue, which always raised eyebrows on the Hill.

Indeed Mr Barr has already flagged the project may now be delayed.

Stage 1 may be built and seemingly popular with Canberrans but that won’t stop the Liberals, which have never accepted the project, saying the ACT can’t afford Stage 1 and offering rates relief to ratepayers.

But like the Prime Minister, Mr Coe, or Mr Parton, will be sure not to complicate matters by talking much about how his party will actually manage the Territory’s finances, just that your rates bill will be lower.

Nor will there be too much detail about how the Liberals will fix the bus network, or hospitals, or schools.

The message will be simple, if simplistic – Labor is taxing you to death, it’s bungled the buses, can’t manage our hospitals, is failing our schools and stopping you from being able to buy a free-standing house.

And the Greens’ and their obsession with climate change means you will pay more for energy.

With no truth in advertising rules and an all’s fair in love, war and elections attitude, the campaign will be overwhelmingly negative, and may be repaid in kind by Labor.

With the Morrison campaign redefining how elections should be fought, the 2020 ACT election looms as an ugly affair.

It’s still a Labor town and a very different electorate to the rest of Australia, and Mr Barr and his team will be favoured to prevail, but as Katy Gallagher said on Saturday night the party should not take Canberra for granted.

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HiddenDragon6:50 pm 21 May 19

Even allowing for the people who are on the ACT Government payroll, and live in NSW, there would still be about 20,000 Canberra households which are fully or partially reliant on ACT Government spending for their income.

That is a very significant constituency for ever-increasing ACT Government spending, and a group who will be highly sensitive and hostile to any threats to that. Unless there is a completely out of character revolt from all the other Canberra households which are paying the majority of the bills, the most that the ACT Liberals could plausibly offer is to stop the move from stamp duty to rates.

That would be a relief, of sorts, to many, but anyone thinking that rates could be cut back to where they were some years ago has got to be kidding themselves – as the cliche goes, the big spending is “baked in”.

Capital Retro10:21 am 21 May 19

I have feedback from colleagues who are not getting paid for their work contracting to the ACT government. These are not large amounts but they are taking 6 -12 months to get in the “shared services” system.

At the same time Barr is finding excuses to defer the second stage of the light fail.

The only state/territory that isn’t hopelessly in debt is NSW and they have flogged off just about everything to avoid this situation. The Northen Territory has already gone broke, state government debt has soared in Queensland and Victoria, who was promised billions from Shorten for transport infrastructure have already commenced work on it. They will go broke too as the money won’t be coming to complete it after the election outcome.
South Australia has quietly sold off its bus service to a private operator and they are considering selling off their problem plagued tram network now.

Before we get a Liberal government in the ACT we will have an administrator to set the bearings for the economic pain we have to bear. The ACT public service will be culled and they even may have to wait some time for their unfunded superannuation.

The bubble is about to burst.

Capital Retro10:08 am 21 May 19

“Alistair Coe came through the private school system. Great values-not.”

So did Shane Rattenbury, so what?

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