A ‘courageous’ way for Albanese to progress after Voice

PM's emotional visit to Uluru

Source: Twitter/Anthony Albanese

When Anthony Albanese is pondering the all-but-inevitable emphatic loss of this weekend’s referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, he might look to one of those things only prime ministers can do.

Calling an early election would have a lot more upside than any contrary thought.

It would change the political conversation with a loud-hailer. It would completely catch Peter Dutton and his nihilist No campaigners off-guard, flat-footed.

Third, and most importantly, it would allow Albanese and Labor to refocus and sharpen their agenda, a program that on paper and around the ridges is beginning to look much greater than the sum of its parts.

The emerging sense of drift could be replaced by renewal and revitalisation.

Despite Albanese’s gritty determination to shake off a three-to-two vote against the Voice, the question is as good as cooked. If it was barbecue, you’d stick a fork in it.

There’s going to be a difficult and rancorous argument about blame and cost following a defeat, with more Monday-morning referees and touch judges than you’d need to fill Lang Park.

Albanese will need a sensibly crafted reaction, respecting the result while maintaining faith and hope with some of the nation’s most disadvantaged communities. That’s hard enough, but it was always the consequence of the path chosen.

Something new to talk about

The other thing Albanese needs to do is give the national government something new to talk about. Voters are truly over the Voice debate – this fatigue added a few points to the No vote in the end – and will want either silence or a different topic of discussion.

Silence won’t work because politics abhors a vacuum.

There’s a suggestion the Prime Minister wants to flick the political switch to the environment, with particular attention on renewable energy.

As important as this is, it’s not going to grab the eyes and ears of a majority in middle Australia still looking to make ends meet, shaking their heads at the sight of $2.40 a litre petrol, prohibitive insurance premiums and grocery store price hikes.

So, here’s the jumping-off point for an early election.

The argument would rest on something big and bold based on scrapping stage three of the Malcolm Turnbull/Scott Morrison high-end tax cuts, giving the government $320 billion otherwise handed out over a decade.

Albanese went to the last election saying the cuts were legislated and wouldn’t be revisited. He’s stuck to this line, arguing it’s all about trust with voters. Treasurer Jim Chalmers let a small trial balloon loose last year but was slapped down by his boss who feared the reaction from businesses and felt a chill in his feet.

Since then there have been more changes in circumstances than Alan Joyce had zeroes on his Qantas payout: War in Ukraine causing a global energy crunch; supply constraints flowing from everything including a pandemic hangover; drought in Panama clogging the canal and inflation that moved into the spare room rather than just staying as a weekend guest.

Plenty of calls on spending

There are plenty of calls on government spending starting with housing where, importantly, Albanese and the states have at last opened the spigots on housing.

They’ve promised to spend at least an extra $5 billion – $1 billion above the additional $2 billion announced in June – and a legislated annual $500 million floor for new dwellings.

A meaningful housing agenda looks to be something the states are happy to work on with the federal government. Photo: Getty

This is good for the tens of thousands (or more) who are in chronic or extreme need of basic housing. There’s a crying need, and opportunity, to do much more.

Aged care can always use extra cash, even though this year’s budget contained spending of more than $10 billion. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is growing at about 15 per cent a year and will consume some $41 billion in 2023-24. To round out the increasing investment in this expanding part of the economy, childcare is going to cost about $4.5 billion over four years.

Beyond these calls on the budget – all of which are really non-discretionary – there are massive demands from a defence department and its military arms which act like a high suction money vacuum for everything from eye-popping sticker prices for nuclear-powered submarines (with a “who knows” delivery date) through to a multibillion joint air battle management system no-one understands and an army restructuring on which no-one can put a price.

You can add on spending for climate investment – either directly or via the states – which will help keep an urgent and ambitious energy transformation program on track.

All this stands next to an infrastructure spend that resembles Bart Simpson eating a tray of hamburgers.

Ditch stage three tax cuts

It’s a big agenda and the money saved from ditching those stage three tax cuts would hardly cover the first round of bills.

Of course, calling an election just over halfway through the government’s first term falls into the column marked “courageous” by Yes, Minister’s Sir Humphrey. It would take a real display of conviction and belief and some political toughness that’s disappeared from the national debate.

It is an argument that can be made. At a time when the national budget is in good health there is a strong case for bending the arc of spending towards those in need, those doing it hard and those who have stumped up in their own way through hard work and putting in.

Support for the biggest cohort of beneficiaries of the top-end relief – people earning more than north of $180,000 a year and walking away with a lower tax bill between $9000 and $16,000 a year – is weaker than ever.

Dutton and the LNP will shout that Albanese is breaking a promise and distracting from the loss of the referendum. The Prime Minister will need a counter argument based on belief, values and conviction.

It’s there to be made, although there would have to be more skill on display than we’ve seen in this referendum campaign.

This article was originally published by InQueensland

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