The Liberals should promise to make superannuation voluntary, introduce state income tax, offer free childcare and increase climate targets according to a radical reform agenda proposed by Andrew Bragg.
The New South Wales senator has called on the opposition to abandon culture war issues in favour of economic reforms that unite Liberals in the wake of the Morrison government’s devastating defeat on Saturday.
The loss of at least 10 seats to Labor and six seats to independents in normally blue-ribbon heartland seats have left Liberals soul-searching about the path back to government under the likely leadership of Peter Dutton.
With former home affairs minister Karen Andrews withdrawing from the race on Tuesday, the deputy leadership is likely to be contested by Sussan Ley, favoured by conservatives, and moderates Jane Hume and Anne Ruston.
In a policy manifesto released on Wednesday, Bragg echoes Malcolm Turnbull’s calls for climate policy to “move beyond ideology”, including by adopting more ambitious “emissions reduction signals at 2030 and 2040”.
Other climate ideas include “a transmission fund through the CEFC [Clean Energy Finance Corporation] to connect the new grid”, akin to Labor’s $20bn rewiring the nation plan, and to “cut taxes and consider new emissions standards for Australian cars to promote electric vehicles”, a policy championed by teal independents.
Bragg labels super a “significant failure” that “doesn’t get many people off the pension, costs the budget more than it saves and reduces agency and individual choices”.
Bragg wants a pause to super increases, which are legislated to lift from 10% to 12%, allow people to access super for housing “without heavy restrictions” and set up “a permanent system” to opt out of compulsory super in favour of higher wages “during certain periods”.
Since his first speech to the Senate arguing for super contributions to be voluntary for low-income earners, Bragg has been an outlier in favour of economic liberalism and a major overhaul of retirement savings.
A moderate in a now increasingly conservative party, Bragg has also advocated for the Indigenous voice to parliament and supported amendments to protect LGBTQ students during the religious discrimination bill debate – two calls he reiterates in the manifesto.
Although a push to freeze super increases was rejected in the last parliament, the Morrison government did propose allowing first homebuyers access up to $50,000 of their super, in line with calls from Bragg and other MPs including Tim Wilson, defeated in Goldstein.
Bragg’s call to “open super for housing by expanding our 2022 election policy” will likely find favour with re-elected colleagues.
Liberal MP Luke Howarth said “we didn’t lose because our policies were wrong, we lost because people wanted to change the prime minister”.
“Look at Labor’s corflutes, they were all about Scott Morrison,” he told Guardian Australia. “If our policies were a little different we wouldn’t have got a single extra vote.”
Howarth said super for housing “is not a bad idea” and “the only reason Labor opposed it is because of their links to industry super”.
But the rest of Bragg’s manifesto is likely to prove controversial – inside his party and out.
Bragg wants to deregulate “rigid” labour laws, including establishing “a simple small business award with strong, clear conditions”, and “promote self-employment through contracting” but allow Australians to create accounts held by the Future Fund to save “for the rainy day”.
Industrial relations has been something of a third rail for the Liberals since John Howard’s loss in 2007 over his WorkChoices legislation, with only minor changes relating to casual employment passing in the last parliament.
Bragg proposes providing one year of paid parental leave to be shared by parents and “a system of childcare for three and four year olds which is largely free”, an idea rejected as too expensive under Morrison’s leadership.
Bragg called to cut company tax, improve “the mix of taxation and balance between income and indirect taxation” – which could signal increasing the GST – and to introduce a “state income tax to replace a large part of federal income tax”. All three are tax ideas considered but ultimately rejected during the Turnbull government.
Bragg wants to cut waste to balance the budget, including slashing superannuation tax concessions, defined benefit pensions for judges, and to downsize “federal departments which are duplicated” in the states.
More in line with Morrison-era policy is Bragg’s call to take on big tech companies, including setting up an inquiry into social media algorithms and international software and systems which “destroy domestic competition”.