How Chalmers won battle but could still lose war against vested interests

You did what? was probably the question Labor’s strategists asked Treasurer Jim Chalmers after he told them he had floated reforms to superannuation.


Mar 07, 2023, updated Mar 07, 2023
Treasurer Jim Chalmers. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Treasurer Jim Chalmers. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

“Nothing big,’’ he assured them. “Just tearing down a tax shelter all those people who read the AFR and The Australian use. Nothing to worry about.’’

After hearing his explanation that he had given the world the benefit of his genius, the strategists pointed to the-still red scars from 2019 and shouted obscenities about franking credits before running off into the night.

But Chalmers got away with it, for now.

The latest Newspoll probably had the strategists quietly weeping tears of relief into their coffee yesterday as they learned that the superannuation reforms championed by Chalmers had 64 per cent support from the public. A Guardian Essential poll today found 50 per cent backing and 31 per cent were opposed. There was also strong support for a crackdown on family trusts.

But there was damage in Labor’s overall support.

Off in the Liberal’s strategy room, those who practice the dark arts and had been busy constructing a Frankenstein out of superannuation reforms, were in the grips of an existential crisis and quietly asking why scare campaigns don’t work anymore.

It was their second rejection after they built an ugly monster out of Albanese’s comment during the election campaign that people on a minimum wage deserved a pay increase of 5 per cent.

As was the case with super reforms, the public looked away briefly away from the cricket or the latest MAFS episode, saw that it seemed reasonable enough and went back to thinking Dave Warner should be axed.

However it eventually plays out, the debate was an insight into the lifecycles of governments and their ability to tell a story.

Compare it to the eight-year-old Palaszczuk Government and the way it appears at times to be lethargic and indifferent.

It copped a battering for months over its inaction on youth crime and looked like it was frozen and incapable of dealing with the issue. But it delivered a suite of reforms that won’t solve the issue and are pretty ugly, but they are something that it can point at and use in the electorate for the next 18 months.

It did the same over housing. It copped weeks of shouting that it was doing nothing about a crisis of homelessness then eventually announced a reforms that, once again, are a long way from perfect but give it a base to start from.

Its energy and jobs plan took an eternity to develop and has so many holes you could drive a wind turbine through it. Its intended results are so far off in the future no one around today will be accountable for them.

But at least it’s a story they can tell and that is the big difference.

This is a strategy that is far from perfect. It makes the Palaszczuk Government look ponderous and unwilling to lead, but at least it’s a strategy and with 18 months to go before an election it still has some time on its side.

No one was shouting at Jim Chalmers to tax super incomes of the rich, although it has pretty widespread support from the industry. He jumped in anyway without doing the groundwork needed to ensure the Opposition had nowhere to move.

We saw in the 2019 election how powerful the vested interests are in this area and Chalmers is no neophyte. That 2019 campaign was lost by Labor partly because it looked shifty and partly because vested interests took it on over franking credits while Labor couldn’t get its story right.

This is a hill the rich and vested interests, including News Corp, is willing to fight for and they won’t give up.

Chalmers is a smart bloke. He will learn from this but it has been at a cost that Labor should never have had to deal with.


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