Mark Riley: Anthony Albanese’s failure of the tennis test is Peter Dutton’s win

Headshot of Mark Riley
Mark Riley
The West Australian
3 Min Read
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his political doubles partner, Treasurer Jim Chalmers, tried to laugh it all off.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his political doubles partner, Treasurer Jim Chalmers, tried to laugh it all off. Credit: AAP

A new measure has appeared in the preponderance of polling that takes the temperature of the Australian electorate.

It’s called the tennis test. And Anthony Albanese has failed it.

Those boos at the Australian Open final on Sunday night were loud and long.

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And they came just four days after Albanese officially broke his promise on the stage three tax cuts — something he had maintained emphatically for well over two years he would not do.

He and his political doubles partner, Treasurer Jim Chalmers, tried to laugh it all off.

They say that giving a bit of what-for to any politician who dared pollute a major sporting event with their presence is a rich Australian tradition.

And it is.

Labor strategists also suggest, sotto voce, that the polo shirt and chinos crowd who’d paid upwards of $1000 a pop for centre court seats weren’t exactly battlers. They’d be among the 11 per cent of high income earners whose tax cuts were being halved.

No wonder they were hot under their Ralph Lauren collars.

The problem with that minimisation, though, is that the same crowd had loudly applauded Albanese at the same event at the same time last year.

It shows that the political cycle has changed. And so has the economic cycle.

Manipulating those parallel cycles into harmony is one of the chief objectives of any government.

When the economy is riding high, people applaud governments and vice-versa.

But the cycles have been out of sync since the last election.

We’ve had an economy at the bottom of its rotation and a Government, for the most part, riding on a high.

That couldn’t last. And after The Voice disaster, it ended. The political cycle turned negative for the Albanese Government.

Now, it is trying to climb back up by piggybacking the economic improvement revealed in this week’s stunning fall in inflation, declaring that the tax cuts will help those doing it toughest ride out the final phase of the downturn.

The redirection of the cuts from the top of the income scale to the low and middle levels is good policy.

But it has been good policy since before Albanese told me in Seven’s Spotlight special 18 months ago that he wouldn’t change it because: “My word is my bond.”

Now, Albanese has broken his word to improve his bond with middle Australia.

Why now when the economic argument was even more persuasive 18 months ago? Because the political cycle has turned.

And it will probably work.

There is a critical difference between Albanese’s backflip and those it is being compared with from relatively recent political times.

Paul Keating’s abandonment of the L-A-W tax cuts, Kevin Rudd’s ditching of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and Julia Gillard’s breach of her “no carbon tax” commitment all left most Australians worse off.

Albanese’s about-face does the opposite. Most will benefit.

Close to 90 per cent of workers will have their tax cuts doubled, including millions of low and middle income earners who had been drifting away from Labor since The Voice campaign.

It is a much more equitable distribution of the $310 billion that stage three will cost the Federal Budget over the next decade.

And it wedges Peter Dutton between two options: he can fight the changes and go into the next election with a policy to effectively rip tax cuts away from middle Australia and hand them to the rich or wave them through and propose an alternative to address the $28 b of bracket creep the changes create.

Surely, only a very special kind of political dope would opt for the first option? And Dutton is not that.

He also knows that opposing the changes in the Senate will deal the Greens into the centre, allowing them to push amendments that would make the changes even less agreeable to his Coalition.

All the while, Anthony Albanese is hoping to ride the economic cycle back to the top over the next 18 months, so he is again cheered by the tennis mob and others when the election comes around.

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