With the Ryan by-election only days away, and polls continuing to show growing support for the ALP, Prime Minister John Howard has made a number of speeches and statements in recent days that reveal much about his approach to politics.
With polls indicating that the ALP may secure a swing of up to 13% in Ryan, on top of the 8% it achieved in the 1998 election, it seems clear that the affluent electorate, containing a high proportion of small business operators and professionals, may react strongly against the Business Activity Statement and other compliance procedures of the new tax system.
Earlier today, the Prime Minister mischievously suggested that the ALP would increase the GST rate from the current 10%. Having once promised that he would “never ever” introduce the GST, Howard demonstrates a breathtaking approach to winning at all costs by being prepared to argue that his opponents will increase the rate. This is despite the fact that the ALP has opposed the introduction of the GST at every election since 1993. During parliamentary debate on the GST legislation in 1998 and 1999, the ALP voted against the GST in both houses of parliament.
It was only through the support of the Australian Democrats, under the current, but possibly temporary, leader, Senator Meg Lees, that the bills were able to pass.
Earlier this week, Howard spoke about his government’s attitude to social policy, particularly in relation to volunteerism and the responsibility of the business sector.
His government has been notable for its introduction of the concept of “mutual obligation” through the Work for the Dole scheme and other reforms to the welfare system. His speech to the Benevolent Society in Sydney this week outlines his philosophical approach to “social coalitions”.
In a week where political activity is hurtling towards a pivotal by-election in a safe conservative electorate in Brisbane, the man who once described himself as the most conservative leader the Liberal Party has ever had has shown himself to be an intriguing mix of ideological commitment and practical political pragmatism.