Today, we have Wayne Swan and Joe Hockey going head to head at the National Press Club at lunch time. I won’t be watching it, because I have a full time job and I’m at work. That’s the problem with these things – the audience is small, but they do have their importance in changing the topic of the campaign conversation, and Labor won’t be unhappy if we do get a focus on the economy.
There are three areas I think Swan should challenge Hockey on:
(a) The claimed $24 billion of savings – which somehow dropped from $40 billion odd early in the campaign with few people noticing. Most of it is smoke and mirrors, with cuts coming from not factoring in Labor spending which disappears from the forward estimates if the mining tax doesn’t go ahead. As I suggested last week, I think the reality of the Coalition’s position is to introduce swinging cuts not foreshadowed in the campaign, which will no doubt be the task of the ‘deficit and debt reduction’ taskforce Abbott previewed in his agenda for office at the campaign launch yesterday;
(b) The stimulus. The Coalition are now running the line that it was irrelevant to Australia’s performance – something contested by almost every economist, and which makes it unclear why the Coalition voted for the first tranche of stimulus under Malcolm Turnbull. Hopefully both Swan and Hockey will both be challenged on what they would do if there is a double-dip recession or further contagion from global financial kerfuffles – something so far only mentioned by Kevin Rudd;
(c) The fact that the latest economic assessment from the Reserve Bank shows the remaining stimulus spending is still important in propping up growth, given that private demand is still weak, and business investment as well in some states – particularly in Queensland where its growth is very sluggish.
Update: Tim Colebatch reports that the Coalition has only submitted 1% of its spend to Treasury for costing, and has given up even indicating costings on policies being released.