I saw this technique at work in the minds of some at the end of the Fraser government. The gambit was that you weighed promises not on the basis of whether they were responsible or affordable, but on whether they improved your chances at the next election, which you didn’t expect to win.
If you lost the election, then your successor was lumbered with the policy. They could either find the money, or wear the odium of dismantling the policy while you scored political points and hope to hold seats you might otherwise lose. If by some chance you won the election, then you inherited these problems, but hey, being in government beats being in opposition.
The Gillard government is racking up an impressive list of policies that they have no easy way of funding. First the NDIS, which the Productivity Commission thinks might add another $6.5 billion net to Commonwealth outlays, and now the Gonski Report at $6.5 billion too.
In a twist on the gambit the government doesn’t expect to fund all of these costs themselves, but hopes to shove a proportion onto the states, which just happen to be managed by their political rivals. So added to the benefits they gain against Abbott, they also manage to position the Liberal states as being uninterested in “reform”, as well as providing a friendly public relations field on which to display their care and compassion.
And in the world of CV building it also provides the PM and her government with another dot point on history’s page.
I didn’t approve of the gambit back in 1982, and I don’t now. It’s another sign of a government that has lost the will to govern and is consuming itself with in the quest to secure its legacy and fork its opponents so that in the long game it’s successors get back into power faster than otherwise.