I suspect there is some sort of scheme going to promote Malcolm Turnbull to shadow Treasurer. Last week he had an op-ed at the Business Spectator calling for a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) and this week there is an op-ed calling for his promotion in shadow cabinet. Starting from the premise that the Coalition economics team looks a bit weak, we get to …
… what Abbott needs to do – and do very quickly – is to reshuffle.
He needs to make Malcolm Turnbull his shadow treasurer, and tell the world he will be treasurer in government. He also needs to bring former Howard chief of staff and respected bureaucrat Arthur Sinodinos into his front line and make him shadow minister for finance.
Let’s look first at the pro-Malcolm Turnbull argument.
Turnbull is widely respected in the business and wider community for his economic nous, his experience and acumen.
All true. There is a lot to like about Turnbull – he is a self-made man who has worked hard and achieved much. But those attributes are not necessary to be a good Treasurer. I am not convinced that good businessmen make good Treasurers.
By contrast to an excellent track-record as a private citizen, Turnbull has a mixed record as a politician. His legacy in office is expensive but dim light bulbs. He has been shadow Treasurer before. There he opposed Brendan Nelson’s cut in fuel excise in the 2008 budget reply speech. Then he was leader. He supported Kevin Rudd’s ETS. He proposed an increase in cigarette excise in the 2009 reply speech. Last week he was saying that budget surpluses should be invested in SWFs. He was talking about spending money in the national interest. This is a man whose political instincts are to increases taxes and not cut taxes. All the while he is actually shadow communications minister, yet has not laid a glove on Stephen Conroy or the NBN. So for that failure, he should be promoted?
If anything he should be demoted out of shadow cabinet. Now criticism of Turnbull doesn’t absolve the criticism that the Coalition needs to improve its economic credentials. But Turnbull is not the answer. The very first thing a Coalition Treasurer will be doing is dismantling the carbon tax and then the mining tax. Turnbull, however, supports the carbon tax. (I’m not sure about his views on the mining tax). Appointing him to Treasury would send the very strong signal that Abbott wasn’t totally committed to abolishing the carbon tax.
I fear Turnbull is going all lawyerly and drawing very fine distinctions. That’s fine. Here he is explaining himself to Tony Jones
MALCOLM TURNBULL: No, no – Tony, this is where the whole thing is an exercise in arid semantics.
Now, again, I’m not going to be disingenuous with you. You can argue it’s a tax whether it’s cap-and-trade or a fixed-price. I mean, from the point of view of industry and the public, putting a price on carbon involves a cost, and it’s a cost whether the cost is fixed or whether it fluctuates.
Now from a technical point of view, there is a difference between cap-and-trade and a tax, a fixed price, but from an impact on cost of living, impact on the cost of electricity, impact on industry, you know, it’s the same. You put a price on carbon, you make carbon intensive energy and products more expensive than less carbon intensive one.
TONY JONES: OK. Let me ask you a …
MALCOLM TURNBULL: So you can argue they’re all taxes, right? So, you know, let’s – this is the sort of …
So when confronted with the challenge of what he would do as Treasurer when the first priority of an Abbott government is repealing the carbon tax, he engages in ‘arid semantics’.
Update II: Gab finds this gem in Hansard.
The Jevons paradox is a reminder that there is no substitute for ensuring that the focus of policy be keenly directed to the objective of the policy. If that objective is, as it should be, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions then we will need, whether by an emissions trading scheme, a carbon tax or by regulation, to put a price on those emissions and change the price of carbon intensive energy relative to less carbon intensive energy and thereby, over time, transition our economy to a low-emission economy.