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The election debate we need

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In her latest Monthly article on Bill Shorten, Laura Tingle highlights the Labor leader's comments about the importance of evidence-based policy and reaching out beyond the party:

Tingle ends her lengthy article with her own take on the election: "It will be the year of fears versus ideas." Maybe. But it may also be an election where rebuilding trust in institutions and proper deliberative processes are as important as the policies themselves.


In whom might voters have greater confidence to nurture institutions and apply due process? Will they consider how the parties would implement their policies, addressing whatever issues future events give rise to, and positioning the nation for the longer term? Will those unwilling to support the major parties consider the likelihood of independent candidates and minor parties contributing constructively to government decision-making over the next three years and beyond?

No doubt many will vote on the basis of the policy choices presented, and many will vote in line with perceptions of broader philosophical leanings. But this time, the very processes of policy deliberation, and the role of institutions within government and across civil society, deserve particular attention – and just maybe that will be a factor. How might the nation rebuild trust in the processes of governance and move away from the "shoutiness" of recent times?

I don't for a moment suggest that Shorten's assurances be accepted without question, but his statements identify a key issue on which all parties (and their leaders) and candidates should be assessed.

One way to explore the extent, if any, to which the major parties might support better informed and more deliberative processes is to consider issues on which both sides' policies are seriously wanting. Would the parties be willing, in government, to adjust their policies after consulting experts in the public service and/or externally, those affected and those on the other side of the Parliament (and the crossbench)? Would they refine the policies during implementation or modify them significantly later, or are they too wedded to prevailing party ideology or too blinkered by commitments to interest groups?

Below are some policy areas where I believe both sides' approaches are ill-thought-through and need more careful deliberation.

The Coalition is berating Labor's proposal to remove dividend-imputation credits for those not paying income tax because it "shifts the goalposts" for self-funded retirees who invested savings on the basis of rules introduced 20 years ago (notably, with bipartisan support). But the Coalition has not acknowledged that the change to the pension assets test, which Scott Morrison initiated, similarly "shifted the goalposts" for many of those same self-funded retirees.

Retirement incomes: The policies currently on offer discourage rational savings behaviour.Credit:Jessica Shapiro

Moreover, the new assets test's "goalposts" are totally unsuited to rational savings behaviour by future retirees: some people approaching retirement will now find their net retirement income may be reduced if they add to their superannuation savings, and so will be encouraged not to save more, or to direct more money into their home (exempt from the assets test), or to retire early and spend more on overseas travel before applying for the pension.

Labor says it doesn't like the new assets test but is yet to clarify what it might do instead. It's sticking to its dividend-imputation policy, which I suspect was developed in response to former treasurer Peter Costello's irresponsible action to exempt from tax any payments after retirement from super savings where the contributions had been taxed. But former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's........

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