The economy has made a comeback as the main topic of debate in parliament, with Labor and the Opposition swapping insults over tax, economic stimulus and debt.
The switch back to the economy comes after the government’s carbon pollution reduction scheme was defeated in the Senate last week and brighter economic news that Australia has avoided a recession.
For a second day, Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull led a series of questions aimed at prising an answer from the government about whether it is considering new taxes, including a capital gains tax on the family home.
Treasurer Wayne Swan, who had already denied media reports that a new CGT was being considered as a result of the Henry tax review, accused the Opposition of a “desperate fear and smear campaign”.
He said the matter had not been discussed.
Rebuffed three times by Mr Rudd and Mr Swan, opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey tried again, claiming Labor could not be trusted not to introduce a new property tax because it was “clearly the form of the Labor Party to do so”.
But Mr Swan said the Henry review, due to be completed by the end of the year, was a comprehensive review of the taxation system except for the GST and tax-free super.
“We will examine it and we will take forward policy proposals in the interest of this nation. That is what we will do,” Mr Swan said.
Later Mr Swan was asked by Nationals leader Warren Truss if the government was considering an increase in the fuel excise.
“The Henry review is comprehensive. We won’t be in the business of ruling things in or ruling things out,” Mr Swan said.
The government tried to turn the attack back on to Mr Turnbull, raising his leadership and judgment in relation to the government’s economic stimulus strategy and his own past taxation proposals.
A succession of senior ministers singled out Mr Turnbull’s own judgment, with Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner saying the Australian people wanted judgment from their governments.
“The one thing that the leader of the opposition has consistently shown in this debate is his lack of experience, his impetuousness and his lack of judgment,” Mr Tanner said.
Mr Rudd accused Mr Turnbull of “catastrophically flawed judgment” over the coalition’s decision to oppose both stimulus packages and its criticism of the government’s decision to guarantee bank deposits last October.
“What would the country have done had he been in the cabinet room on that occasion, responsible for these decisions?” Mr Rudd asked.
“Why don’t you try and get your own act together on just one element of policy and join with us in the constructive business of the nation, and not simply pull apart yourselves and, as a consequence, the country.”
The scene was set on Tuesday morning, with a string of coalition MPs arriving at Parliament House warning that continued stimulus spending was no longer necessary and that people feared the government’s growing debt.
Mr Turnbull rejected a claim on Monday night by Mr Rudd that the government’s stimulus spending strategy had saved Australia from recession.
“The reality is a great deal of (the cash payments) were saved,” Mr Turnbull said.
“What do we have to show for it? Cash handouts and hundreds if not thousands of Julia Gillard memorial halls scattered across the country?”
But Mr Rudd told the Labor caucus MPs needed to sell to their constituents the continuing need for stimulus spending and the nation-building program.
“Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey appear to be the only Australians who wanted to see the stimulus package fail because of their own political opportunism,” the prime minister told MPs on Tuesday morning.
Back in parliament, Mr Swan teased the opposition.
“They said the stimulus wouldn’t work … well, the data is in,” he said.
“The stimulus has worked but there are big challenges ahead for this nation and what the nation requires is unity in this house in dealing with these challenges.”