Canberra week in review April 8

The week in politics has culminated in Labor’s announcement that, if elected, it would launch a Royal Commission into banks and the financial sector.

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It comes as Labor overtook the coalition in the opinion polls, and the prime minister faced criticism from within and outside his government.

It’s often said the only poll that matters is the one on election day.

The latest opinion poll published by The Australian newspaper, however, shows the Coalition now trails Labor in the two party preferred stakes, for the first time since Malcolm Turnbull won the leadership.

Mr Turnbull refused to discuss the matter when asked, trying instead to shift the focus to the economy.

“Look I’m really here to talk about the big issues that affect Australians which are the growth of their economy and ensuring that there is economic leadership that will deliver jobs for their children and their grandchildren.”

But when Mr Turnbull announced he would be challenging Tony Abbott for the Liberal leadership he pointed to the government’s falling approval in opinion polls.

In a press conference last September Mr Turnbull also highlighted what he called a failure by Mr Abbott to provide the economic leadership Australia needs.

“If we do not make a change, the one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 newspolls in a row, it is clear that people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership.”

Now, Mr Turnbull’s own economic policy direction is facing criticism, including from among his own backbenchers.

Queensland Liberal National MP Michelle Landry has used the media to again question what she sees as the government’s failure to sell its message to voters.

“I have said that I thought we were a little bit wishy washy but I think that we need to refocus on the jobs at hand. The Coalition Government is very strong with the economy and people want us to do that and I think everything is getting lost a little bit with the 24 hour news cycle and the important message that we’re putting out there is getting lost.”

Mr Turnbull’s response referenced the upcoming federal budget, expected on May 3.

“I know Michelle Landry quite well, she’s a great local member and look we have a robust party she’s entitled to her view but she’s no doubt like everybody else very keen to see what’s in the budget. But I haven’t spoken to her but if I did I would encourage her to be more upbeat that’s for sure.”

All of this comes after the prime minister floated economic policies which will ultimately never see the light of day.

First was the possibility of an increase to the Goods and Services Tax which received a negative public reception.

More recently there was a proposal for the states to collect income tax – rejected almost instantly by those gathered at a Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra.

On other policy matters, a new report has forecast a huge blowout in the total value of commonwealth subsidies for tertiary student loans — from $60 billion now to $185 billion in a decade.

It says both the Gillard Labor government’s removal of university enrolment limits and extending the Higher Education Loan Program to vocational courses, as well as the coalition’s fiercely unpopular plans to deregulate university fees, are to blame for the forecasts.

The government, meanwhile, is under pressure to reveal a new policy which funds growth in higher education, keeps student fees affordable and contains costs to the taxpayer.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham says he hopes to shed more light before a federal election later in the year.

“Ours is a generous, accessible, and equitable university access system. I’m committed to keeping it generous, accessible, and equitable, but also determined to make sure that it’s affordable for long-term so we can maintain that generosity and equitable access.”

Labor appears to have seized on the prime minister’s musings that if the states and territories levied a share of income tax, the federal government could get out of funding hospitals and public schools.

Federal opposition education spokeswoman Kate Ellis says Labor is committed to investing public education.

“We will make sure that every teacher that every student and that every parent is very clear when it comes to the next election just how reckless Malcolm Turnbull’s plan is and that we will not give the Liberal Party the chance to lie to the Australian public like they did at the last election”

The election date hangs in the balance, but an early poll is expected and Labor isn’t waiting until the official campaign kicks off.

Its latest announcement is that it will hold a Royal Commission into the bank and finance sector if elected.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten made the announcement in Melbourne.

“A short time ago, my Shadow Cabinet agreed to call upon the Turnbull Government to hold a Royal Commission into misconduct in the financial services industry in Australia, and if Mr Turnbull and the Liberal government choose not to hold a Royal commission, an incoming Labor government will.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison has described Labor’s royal commission intentions as reckless, and says they will dent international confidence in Australia’s financial sector.

But the banking-related scandals of recent years are many and varied.

They include financial planners accused of ripping off retirees, allegations that bank bill swap rates were rigged, and more recently, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission announced an investigation into reports the Commonwealth Bank’s insurance arm CommInsure had denied claims from sick and dying people.

Asked by the ABC about a banks Royal Commission before Bill Shorten’s announcement, Treasurer Scott Morrison appeared dismissive, saying Labor had voted against a call for one last year.

“In the eve of an election when there are a few reports about banks, Bill Shorten is up there in his ill-fitting suit, puffing his chest up and saying we need to thump the table.”