Magical Mystery Tour or Highway to Hell for Labor’s Big Red Bus?

John Mikkelsen

Pollsters stay at home on long weekends, but anyone watching Bill Shorten’s magical mystery tour on the big red diesel bus could be forgiven for thinking he took a turn down the Highway to Hell with his fumbling pit stop interviews during the opening week of the campaign.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison focused attention on the costs of Labor’s tax, energy and climate change policies, and Shorten opened the door wide to accusations he lied about new taxes on superannuation. He repeatedly denied, then finally gave a firm undertaking to a Sky News journalist there would be no new taxes.  The next day he claimed he had “misunderstood the question,” admitted he ‘stuffed up’ and he should have chosen his words better.

Labor took down the policy from its website, along with negative gearing details, but has now conceded the impact of its planned crackdown on super tax concessions is $30 billion – substantially higher than the $19 billion it had previously claimed, and slightly less than the $34 billion cited by the PM.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a clearly very frustrated Shorten repeatedly dodged a question from a determined Channel 10 reporter about the cost of its climate change policy, based around 50 per cent renewable energy, 50 per cent new electric vehicle sales and a 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030. After waffling on about the government’s failings and ignoring demands to answer the question, he simply moved on to another journalist.

Shorten has since been asked the same question and again failed to give any definitive answer apart from claiming it would boost productivity and denying a damning costs forecast from respected analyst, BA Economics’ Brian Fisher.

The BAE report claims Labor’s policy could cost 336,000 jobs and the cumulative loss of gross national product between 2021 and 2030 would be as high as $502 billion. This compares with its forecast of $89 billion under the Coalition’s policies, which include reducing emissions by 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. (Big ouch, smaller ouch!)

Meanwhile Shorten has found his green dream of 50 per cent new electric vehicle sales over the next decade needed more homework. After first stating that an EV could be charged in eight or 10 minutes (oops!) he made another gaffe by claiming “Toyota would not be manufacturing any petrol or diesel vehicles after 2025”. The company has since confirmed it has no such plans. Oops again.

And there has been no explanation of how Labor can replace half the existing national vehicle fleet of about 19 million with EVs, now totalling about 4000, In the wake of an outcry from worried motorists in regional areas, Labor belatedly says it’s a target, not a mandatory figure, and claims the Coalition has a similar policy. Wrong again, as the Coalition has a broad goal of 25 – 50 per cent (could be as low as a more achievable 26 per cent). Their policy also does not include Labor’s much tighter emission controls on conventional vehicles which most of today’s popular models would fail to achieve.

After the Easter truce, it will be back to war again today. Total war.

Labor has been pitching for the middle with its pledges on health and education. It’s attempted to shore up its left flank with its emissions and energy policies.

“Saving the planet”, however, is a very elusive, very costly exercise. Constant lectures on coming climate catastrophes since the ozone layer scares of the late eighties mean the Coalition also has to play along, even though its heart’s not really in it.

And despite repeated claims “the science is settled”, it’s not. There is no “scientific consensus”. Any Google search will reveal a long list of qualified climate scientists who dispute the unprovable hypothesis that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere – now just 0.04 per cent – is the main driver of climate change.

There are many other factors at play including solar flare activity, changes in the Earth’s orbit, ocean current movements, gradual movements in the magnetic poles – you could probably add Donald Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns and unknown unknowns” to the list.

Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel has admitted that even if Australia was to reduce its CO2 emissions to zero (which the Greens want) it would have a negligible impact on world climate.

All of which makes for a complex and confusing election message from Labor – even when Shorten gets it right – compared to the Liberals’ favourite tried and tested “economic security”.

This time next week we’ll have some proper polls. Where will the Big Red Bus and the Magical Mystery Tour be? On the road to victory – or down in the Devil Gate Drive?


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