Michael Pascoe: Morrison’s gone, cynical Frydenberg trying to save the furniture

Scott Morrison is gone. Anthony Albanese will win the election. Josh Frydenberg is fighting to save some of the furniture.

There, it’s been said.

The commentariat generally is too scarred from getting the 2019 election wrong to call it, carefully hedging their collective bets.

Something similar happened in 1996 after Paul Keating’s surprise 1993 “true believers” victory, but the polls and the national mood have had enough of the Morrison government in 2022 as they had had enough of the Keating government in 1996.

The majority of the electorate perceives the Coalition as tired, cynical and short of talent after nine years in power – not fit for purpose.

The hole left by the “moderate” Liberal leadership quitting Parliament before the last election has not been plugged. And the successful manoeuvring by Scott Morrison/Alex Hawke to ensure more “captain’s picks” this May is likely to make that worse.

At the presidential end of the election, the “liar” tag has stuck to Scott Morrison the way the “untrustworthy” tag stuck to Bill Shorten three years ago.

The ‘liar’ tag has stuck to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in the way the ‘untrustworthy’ tag stuck to Bill Shorten in 2019.

How on the nose is Mr Morrison?

“Prime Minister Scott Morrison will steer clear of the Liberal Party’s most marginal Sydney seat during the election campaign, leaving it to his more popular Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, to help first-term MP Dave Sharma in the battle for Wentworth,” reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

So with the election lost, the next federal Liberal Party leader Josh Frydenberg (if he doesn’t lose his seat), will use the promise of taxpayers’ money on Tuesday night to try to limit the extent of the loss and burnish his own standing with the party.

When you’re desperate and you don’t have to worry about actually doing anything you promise, nothing is off limits.

Good heavens, “carporks” are back on the agenda, along with more smoke-and-mirrors infrastructure pledges – an extra $1 billion a year for 10 years to concoct another “record” spend. (In real terms, it’s not an increase, but watch most media fall for the ruse again.)

And while the Reserve Bank is to start lifting interest rates to take a little warmth out of an economy supposedly overheating from $250 billion of excess savings, Mr Frydenberg will “cash splash” millions of electors.

But for a single example of how cynical Mr Frydenberg is prepared to be, the prize goes to his promise to extend the 50 per cent reduction of self-funded retirees’ minimum superannuation drawdown for another year.

“In a bid to win the retiree vote ahead of the upcoming election budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has pledged the Coalition will not touch superannuation tax and will extend minimum drawdown reductions brought in during the pandemic until June 2023,” correctly reported the Canberra Times.

And that’s all the measure is.

It defies the declared purpose of the many tax breaks superannuation enjoys – providing comfortable retirement.

Instead, Mr Frydenberg is underlining the actual purpose of super for many wealthier retirees: An estate planning tool.

Of course the Treasurer trotted out some verbiage about providing “retirees with greater flexibility and certainty over their savings”, but that’s a lie – it’s just pandering to the comfortable base and any retirees silly enough to mistake their interests with those of that base.

And that, in Mr Frydenberg’s own words, is trying to ride the sentiment whipped up about proposed franking credits reform three years ago: “At this election, we are again saying to retirees – under a Morrison government there will be no increased superannuation taxes.”

Labor isn’t game to touch super either after last time, but that’s not the point.

The stupidity of Mr Frydenberg’s policy is that a retiree aged 81 will only be required to withdraw 3.5 per cent of their super balance. A 74-year-old retiree only has to withdraw 2.5 per cent.

Any retiree who only requires 2.5 or 3.5 per cent of their super balance to live comfortably has done extremely well out of the best tax haven this side of the Caribbean.

Any half-competent super account has enough cash in it not to require selling assets to meet minimum withdrawal requirements.

Peter Costello and John Howard pandered to the wealthy with superannuation lurks and perks. Photo: AAP

And it would have to be a very poor super fund not to be earning more than the discounted withdrawal requirement anyway.

Mr Frydenberg is telling us he has the same attitude towards super as did Peter Costello and John Howard when they went over the top in pandering to the wealthy in providing super lurks and perks, seriously damaging the integrity of the system and putting an unsustainable strain on the budget.

Such is Mr Frydenberg’s integrity, his degree of fiscal credibility.

Ironically, it was Scott Morrison as Treasurer who curtailed the worst of the Howard/Costello excess.

Now as a failing Prime Minister, he’s overseeing a little degradation.

The desperate will do anything.

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