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Michael Pascoe: No, the federal Liberal Party doesn’t give a stuff about Australia

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The signs were already there, already obvious, that the Dutton-led Coalition was going down the Abbott path of ‘Total Opposition’, having learned nothing from having its heartland blitzed by teal independents.

But if you need a single act to signify the federal Liberal Party has left the building, having no interest in Australia’s best interests, it is the call by Peter Dutton and his deputy Sussan Ley that no one from the Coalition should attend the jobs and skills summit on September 1 and 2.

(That Nationals’ leader David Littleproud didn’t get the Dutton/Ley memo or an invitation from the government is of passing bemusement, saying something about how weak the Coalition is when there isn’t any pork to rort and a missed opportunity by Labor to extend a hand to agrarian socialist comrades, subsequently extended.)

Mr Dutton’s petulance in rejecting the opportunity to take part in open policy debate suggests he has nothing to offer said debate.

Our extraordinary nine years of policy vacuum has left its perpetrating party bereft of anything but predictable cant.

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott leaves the stage after speaking at the tax forum in Canberra in October 2011. Photo: AAP

I am proudly old enough to have been at two previous open federal summits, including sharing the facilitation of one.

The first was Bob Hawke’s in the old Parliament House, a modest setting more befitting its usual denizens than the present edifice.

That was the summit most memorable for Paul Keating being rolled on introducing a GST when then Westpac CEO Bob White led the business lobby in not getting aboard the cart.

Opportunity missed, future political theatre created for Keating to win his “sweetest victory of all” 1993 election by opposing a GST.

The second – and more apposite – was the 2011 tax summit brought about by Rob Oakeshott’s leverage over the Gillard government.

A vast amount of work went into that summit, bringing together the federal and state governments, the business, social and union sectors plus a smattering of independent experts.

But “Total Opposition” Tony Abbott and his dud shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, refused to attend. As the cliché goes, like the Bourbons, they learned nothing and forgot nothing.

Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott led the Total Opposition in 2011.

For a brief shining moment, some genuine change seemed possible as the foibles, shortcomings and plain stupidities of our tax system were examined.

A piece subsequently written about a particular aspect – housing affordability– has aged well. Given how our housing crisis has subsequently evolved, a soul could weep over the lost opportunity to start reform 11 years ago.

But no. Pathetic petty party politics intervened.

Real reform needs bipartisan support. It requires sublimation of immediate personal political advantage for the greater good of the nation.

Abbott and Hockey had no interest in that. And now Dutton and Ley have writ large that they don’t either.

Abbott and Hockey delivered Australia’s lost decade – what they will be remembered for.

They killed rational carbon pricing for a generation. Politically, the major parties still can’t face up to the no-brainer that it is.

Instead of improving a resources rental tax (it needed improving), they killed the opportunity to have one.

Right now, a levy on carbon exports and a windfall profits tax on domestic energy price gouging is politically beyond the capability of a Labor government scared by Abbott’s weaponisation of the “tax” word.

So the rabble that is the federal Opposition will remain aloof from the jobs and skills summit, declining the opportunity to contribute to policy formation – if they have anything to contribute – preferring to remain remote to whinge, playing to their rusted-on base instead of the nation’s benefit.

And thus the Dutton opposition perforce marks itself as unfit for consideration as alternative government. It doesn’t care about the country, about our future.

It lacks any sense of integrity. It’s only in it for the mates, for the vested interests, for the lust for power, for the keys to The Lodge.

And that is a bad thing for us all. We get better government when there is good opposition, challenging, improving.

The Dutton opposition has left the building. It has nothing to offer.

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We’ve Already Come Too Far To End This Now.

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