What Turnbull really means by consultation

When Malcolm Turnbull was elected he wanted to lead an open government that promoted genuinely consultative engagement with members of parliament and with voters.

There was going to be a discussion where “Everything was on the table” on tax reform. If the current debate on the GST as any indication, the table is moving around quite a bit and things keep slipping off.

Domino man

 Malcolm Turnbull’s “something just fell off the tax reform table” face.

The way  government engages the electorate in public debate is through the process of publishing, first a Green paper, and then a White paper. In relation to tax reform, these processes had stalled under Tony Abbott.

All indications were that Malcolm Turnbull would engage the public on the question of tax reform through the process of a green white paper. Now he’s hinting that he’s not going to increase taxes to meet the ever-growing budget deficit, that there will be no GST (although he doesn’t appear to report the Treasurer along on that one).

He also seems to have abandoned the idea of a tax White Paper which essentially sets out the directions that Australia could take on tax reform.

Asked yesterday about the tax white paper, Mr Turnbull all but confirmed it was dead. He said that “the budget will be, for all practical purposes, the white paper”.

So this means that if there is going to be an increase in the GST, it will be announced in the budget. Presumably the same goes for changes (or otherwise) to superannuation concessions and a range of other measures such as changes to negative gearing and  international company tax.

There are two possible scenarios here.

The first is that Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison will wimp out on tax reform and balancing the budget. They will go for Budget-Lite, no nasties and no spending cuts. The strategy will be to let budget creep solve the budgetary problems and hope that this gets them re-elected.

The second is that Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison have learned nothing from the debacle of Joe Hockey’s first budget and will dump a huge range of changes on the  unsuspecting electorate.

Whatever happens, any hopes that the budget messages is being effectively sold to the electorate or that the government is in control of the process, are slowly fading.

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