Howard poll bribes attacked



The Australian

Samantha Maiden, Political correspondent

5th December 2007


ELECTION bribes have been blamed for the Howard administration's failure to practise small government.


In a new edition of the Institute of Public Affairs journal titled What Next - Liberalism After Howard, conservative critics have accused the former prime minister of failing to practise what he preached on reducing the role of government.


"How small was the Howard government?" asks Des Moore, a former deputy secretary of the federal Treasury. "An important issue is whether the Liberal Party's avowed small government philosophy is any longer of significance, or whether it is destined to die the death of Labor's former objective, the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The temptation will be not to move forward, but to retreat and avoid controversy, which is what state Liberals seem to have done."


While the first full year of the Howard government produced a reduction in total expenditure, it reverted to above 1996 levels by the 2001 election.


"In reality, the whole of the 1.7 percentage point fall in total outlays over the period between 1995-96 and 2006-07 was due to the reduction in interest costs, mainly reflecting the reduction in debt from the proceeds of privatisations," Mr Moore said.


"A major contributor to the continued high level of discretionary spending was the maintenance of high expenditures on social security benefits.


"This epitomises the soft, vote-buying approach and occurred despite the much stronger growth in average real per capita incomes over the period it was in office - about 2.3 per cent per annum - and the obvious reduction in need to assist middle- and higher-income groups.


"Unsurprisingly, despite the announcement of many tax cuts, the overall burden of commonwealth taxation (including the GST) increased by over 2.5 percentage points of GDP. In effect, this increase financed the elimination of the budget deficit and the build-up of a surplus of around 1 per cent of GDP. If the Liberal Party has sufficient inclination and capacity to develop a policy approach based on reducing the extent of government intervention in the community, there is plenty of scope for it to do so at both the federal and state levels."