Friday, September 12, 2008

Nelson Making Promises He Can’t Keep

Every day that goes by it seems that someone else jumps onto the pensioner bandwagon. The latest to join the campaign to boost pensioner payments is Dr. Rosanna Capolingua, President of the Australian Medical Association. She points out that poverty is widely recognized as one of the key contributing factors to poor health, and that keeping pensioners below the poverty line is not only bad for their health but ultimately costly to the health system. This is yet another excellent argument to support something which should not even be an issue.

Another convert on the road to Damascus is Federal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, who has announced that he will introduce legislation to the Parliament next week to award single aged pensioners the $30 a week that National Seniors Australia have been requesting. Despite the fact that this is a most worthy cause, it’s hard not to think this is yet another cynical exercise in populist politics from Dr. Nelson. He knows very well that the bill will never pass Parliament as long as the Government sticks to its plan to wait for the review of pensions to be completed next February. It’s nothing more than a grandstanding stunt.

The coalition had more than a decade in power during which they could have addressed the issue of pensioners living in poverty. But they didn’t. It’s only now that they can score a few points that they have decided to come to the party. It’s so blatant that it’s almost unseemly, almost a cynical attempt to benefit from the misfortune of others. It’s a move that isn’t fooling anybody.
If Brendan Nelson really wanted to get this through he could always offer to do a deal with the government to allow the luxury car tax and alcopop tax increases to go through in return. But unfortunately today’s politics is not about delivering results, only scoring points.

For Brendan Nelson, the sad truth is that it doesn’t matter how many populist proposals he puts up. His time as opposition leader is running out anyway. It has been reported that a move could be made against him as early as next Tuesday when Parliament returns to Canberra. It is certainly clear that many within the Liberal Party are keen to move on, and now that Peter Costello has repeated his determination to leave politics, many feel the time is right.

I wouldn’t be too sure of that, however. There is also advice being given to Malcolm Turnbull to be patient and allow Dr. Nelson’s leadership to run its course to avoid the accusation of not giving him sufficient opportunity to assert his leadership. That is a sound proposition, and in all likelihood Mr. Turnbull will not challenge until the point arrives when Brendan Nelson has exhausted his goodwill. That won’t be next week, but it will be before the end of the year.

So, Brendan gets another chance for now, Malcolm gets to be leader later, and meanwhile the pensioners still get nothing until next year.

I only hope I’m wrong about that last part.

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