Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Is Kevin Rudd's proposed "super profits" tax a watershed moment in the vein of Mark Latham's disastrous March 2004 "wealthy non-government schools" funding change announcement?

The media and the right-wing commentariat pounced on Latham and, says Anthony Ashbolt at the University of Wollongong, "saturate[d] public discussion" with the term "hit list", referring to the 67 "wealthy private schools" Latham was determined to deprive of some of their government funding.

Certainly, both policies smack of "old Labor" and the perennial spectre of fiscal redistribution the party seems forced to dispel at every turn. The Liberals make hay with such policies, helping to conjure up the old "social engineering" demon that, they say, just won't be put back in its bottle.

The fact about big mining companies being partly foreign-owned (70 percent for Rio Tinto and 30 percent for BHP Billiton, for example), which results in their "super profits" being taken offshore is, on the face of it, true. But truth in the public sphere is a clumsy and contested quality.

For this reason, it strikes me that Labor has reached for the golden goose too often. First, a new tax on cigarettes. Then this. What else will they need to do to stop Australia's fiscal haemorrhaging?

It doesn't look good for Labor, and Rudd's partyroom is starting to ask questions that, a month ago, were never voiced. How quickly things change in politics. With policies like this drawing the swing vote away from Labor back to the Opposition, a change of government seems possible come October.

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