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Analysis of the Coalition's new tax policy

PRU GOWARD: Okay, so now they have to sell it but they're selling it to an electorate which according to John Singleton, has grown increasingly sophisticated, increasingly cynical about Government policy. These days, according to Mr Singleton, you go down to the pub and they talk about the balance of payments problems. So, is this bid for the vote enough? Will it get Andrew Peacock over the line? How is it reflected in the polls, particularly in the qualitative polls, about what Australian voters think they need? I've been joined now by Gary Morgan from the Roy Morgan Research Centre. Good morning, Mr Morgan. Mr Morgan, you've had time now to look at the Peacock tax package. You've also been polling Australian attitudes to economic policy over the last, I suppose twenty years, but more recently. How do you think this package touches nerves within the Australian voter?

GARY MORGAN: I don't think that there's any doubt that this package wouldn't be popular because it's directed at the family and it's also directed at small business. Both these areas of Australia have been hit fairly hard in the last few years so they would be very impressed with this package.

PRU GOWARD: Okay, so does that make it a vote winner?

GARY MORGAN: Well, it doesn't necessarily outline how the Liberal National Party is going to solve Australia's economic problems but it does give those things for the community some reason for voting Liberal National Party and I think with that regard, it will be very popular.

PRU GOWARD: Did you .. you might not have caught my opening remarks, Mr Morgan, but I spoke to John Singleton who's an ad man of some repute, this morning, and his argument was that Australian voters have become cynical and sophisticated and they don't any more, just sit there and say what's in this for me.

GARY MORGAN: Yes, there's no doubt about that but what this package is doing is switching the welfare section from the Aboriginals and some of the education people and the unemployed, and switching some of that money to the small business people and also to the people with families. Now, the unemployed and the people who receive welfare, probably vote Labor anyway and what this package is doing is making it more attractive for the family man and for small business to vote Liberal National Party and I think in that regard, it will be extremely popular. Now what Mr Singleton is talking about is interest rates and the economy and particularly the balance of payments problems. Now there's no doubt the electorate is very concerned about these issues, in fact they are the top issues at the moment is interest rates, and this package doesn't in fact, cover those areas and I just heard Senator Stone talk about this and he ... the point that it really wasn't the purpose of this package, in those areas.

PRU GOWARD: No, that was intriguing, wasn't it? Senator Stone believes the answer to the economic problems lies in their wages policy.

GARY MORGAN: Well, he's probably right in that regard because what he's talking about there is holding back wages and probably cutting the minimum wage rate. I haven't read the policy but I think what he's .. what they're talking about is trying to get more people in the workforce and holding back wage demands by increasing competition.

PRU GOWARD: And a huge, as he calls it, productivity breakout and I take it, much more individual negotiation.

GARY MORGAN: Everyone is in favour of productivity. What it really means is that you are going to see some cuts in wages with regard to over-award payments, for instance, double time or triple time on Sunday and some of the areas of wages where people are paid excessive wages due to the monopolistic situation they're in. Now in fact, the best example you've got of this at the present time is the airline pilots and what you are finding is that the electorate would be very much in favour of what Mr Hawke is doing there - being tough with the unions - and in fact in our political issues survey, we have found that being tough with the unions has increased quite a lot in the last few months. In other words, the electorate is saying, look, we don't want some people in the community to get salaries or wages way outside what they're really worth. I mean, if you look at the fat cats in Canberra, what they're all asking for at the present time, and there's another example for you.

PRU GOWARD: And that bothers people, people are conscious of it?

GARY MORGAN: I think they're annoyed that the senior public servants, for instance, are asking for say $150 to $180,000 a year and the average worker is on something like $20 to $25,000.

PRU GOWARD: Now the thing that struck me as the best line of attack for the Government is obviously the line they're going on - this is terrible for the needy, they're ripping off the poor, the least .. it's cynical, people who can't defend themselves, not a big vote in it. But does this .. if the Government's criticism is to work, then they've got to trigger that conscience nerve in middle Australia, don't they, that commitment to - we must give some of our stuff away to look after those less fortunate than ourselves. Does that nerve still live in Australia?

GARY MORGAN: Well it does live but the nerve which is more important is looking after oneself first and if you asked the question, 'What would you like the Government to do which would benefit you and your family', the issue which is mentioned most often there is reduced taxes.

PRU GOWARD: Yes, but we have put up with a reasonably generous welfare sector in this country since Federation. So in other words, the electorate has up until now, wanted a generous, reasonably generous welfare section.

GARY MORGAN: ... about that, Pru. The point is that what you're asking now, is nine months on the dole long enough to go out and get a job? I mean, that's the issue that this policy is directed at and what they're saying is that they're wanting to redistribute the welfare more fairly and not just to the very needy such as the person who is unemployed continuously, just collecting the dole and not really going out to find a job. Now, I believe personally, that this package will be popular in that regard. Where it may fall down is the issue of interest rates and the issue of solving Australia's economic problems.

PRU GOWARD: But you don't think people are going to say there's something in this for us but it's so bad for the poor, so bad for the blacks, we can't have a Government that takes this view of the less fortunate?

GARY MORGAN: Unfortunately, I don't think you're right in that. I mean, I think people are more interested in themselves than they are for instance, in the Aboriginal ...

PRU GOWARD: I don't know whether I am right or wrong, I just asked the question.

GARY MORGAN: I believe it and we know from surveys we've done at many times, that if you ask a question, 'What's the most important issue at the present time?' people .. many of the issues will be mentioned such as the environment and welfare, and you ask the same person, 'What's the most important issue which will affect you?' and no-one mentions those problems unless, or not as much as such things as reducing taxation.

PRU GOWARD: Perhaps times are too tough to be generous.

GARY MORGAN: Well, I think people want to look after themselves first and they're the people who are actually paying the tax to pay the welfare. I mean, you must look at the cycle, the money comes from somewhere to pay somewhere else, and what these people, or what a large percentage of the electorate will be saying is that they want to pay less tax to pay for welfare, because times are tough.

PRU GOWARD: Do you reckon this might just push Andrew Peacock over the line?

GARY MORGAN: Well, I think that's a difficult question to answer. At the present time, both parties are running neck and neck. There's no reason why the present Government wouldn't change some of their policies in relation to some of these issues. In fact, the present Government has, over the last twelve months, been looking very carefully at the welfare payments and in fact, I've never known a Government to be so concerned about people ripping off the welfare or getting advantage from the welfare, where they shouldn't be. So, I mean it is wrong to think that the present Government isn't looking at those issues.

PRU GOWARD: I totally agree with you.

GARY MORGAN: Yes, so I think there's a long way to go yet and I think this package though is balanced to some extent, the needs of the family man and there's no doubt the present Government's concern with the family also.

PRU GOWARD: Gary Morgan, from Roy Morgan Research Centre, thank you.