The Coalition has today adopted a shock-and-awe tactic to kick-start its election campaign: promised income tax cuts to cost $34 billion over three years, accompanied by aspirational talk of an Australia in which 98 per cent pay a marginal tax rate of 35 per cent or less. I won’t presume to discuss the promise’s target market at this point, but it should be noted that tax cuts at the past two budgets produced largely disappointing returns in the opinion polls (although the more recent round can be credited with a slight narrowing in Labor’s lead in August and September). Nonetheless, the announcement will fill the news bulletins with images of Peter Costello in his element, whereas Kevin Rudd will be forced to discuss those tax scales he couldn’t name a few weeks ago.
Centre-left economist John Quiggin makes the following observation on the troubled history of election tax cut promises:
I can recall (perhaps with error) at least two instances of such cuts being promised and then taken back. One was Paul Keating’s L-A-W tax cuts in 1993, which (as implied) were actually legislated in an attempt to increase their credibility. The other was the Fistful of Dollars tax cut of 1977 (so named for the ads which showed precisely that) promised by the Fraser-Lynch team going into the election and then (if my fading memory serves) taken back by Lynch’s newly-appointed replacement. Now what was his name again?