Three news items:

This prominent Leftist wants tax cuts

There is a lot more economic rationality in the Australian Left than there is in most Leftist parties

Paul Keating has delivered a scathing assessment of the party he led for four years, saying he doubts Labor can ever recover the reformist zeal it once displayed and criticising its failure to offer a reduction in the top tax rate. The former Labor prime minister has revealed he urged Mark Latham to reduce the top income tax rate from 47 per cent to 39per cent as part of his 2004 election platform, saying it "would drive (John) Howard mad". But Mr Latham ignored the advice. In a rare concession to his opponents, Mr Keating says "the Liberals have actually showed more promise in understanding the need to open (the economy) up than the Labor Party does".

But Mr Keating, who as treasurer delivered the last cut in the top income tax rate in the 1980s when he reduced it from 60 to 47per cent, says both Labor and the Coalition lack the "conscientiousness and urgency" to pursue economic reform. Mr Keating's frank comments were given in an extensive interview with The Weekend Australian journalist George Megalogenis and appear in his book, The Longest Decade, to be published on Monday. Mr Keating describes the party he led as "a pretty modest beast" for most of its history. Although he says he supports current leader Kim Beazley, his remarks will be seen as an attack on his approach at a time when he is vulnerable over low approval ratings in the opinion polls.

Mr Keating says that, since he lost office in 1996, Labor "has gone back to the old anvil". "It's walked away from financial innovation, from the opening up of the economy and the whole meritocracy model of widening its own appeal to single traders, to sole operators of business, small business. "And you may say, 'Well, will we see the likes of the 83-to-96 government again?' Well, maybe, maybe not. Institutionally, you could have no confidence that the Labor Party could now breed it. In fact, it probably never bred it; it was more good luck than good management."

Mr Keating says he rang Mr Latham just before the last election to wish him luck. Mr Latham responded that he expected a struggle but he was happy that he had highlighted during the campaign the need to "ease the squeeze" on families. Mr Keating says he responded: "Listen mate, you know what the squeeze on families is in Sydney, how they move up from a two-bedroom apartment to a terrace house, how they trade in their Commodore for an Audi, that's the squeeze on families." Mr Latham had responded: "You're joking."

Mr Keating says economic conditions have been kind to Peter Costello and John Howard. "It's been too easy," he says. "Let's make this point, this treasurer and this prime minister have never had a quarterly set of national accounts which would have been a disappointment to them. They didn't have to find, or fathom, a way to reduce inflation (like I did)."

The Longest Decade also includes an interview with Mr Howard, who says the previously Labor-voting blue-collar workers who had become self-employed as a result of economic deregulation were "a natural fit for me". "A lot of those people are socially conservative. They don't like all this trendy stuff (such as a republic and Aboriginal reconciliation)," he says....

The book reveals that, despite being antagonists throughout their careers, Mr Howard and Mr Keating share some common views, including on economic reform, their distaste for former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and the republic.

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Families: More Left/Right consensus

To a degree

Labor leader Kim Beazley has defended John Howard's tax benefit for stay-at-home mothers, arguing it does not discourage women from working. In the latest in a series of steps to de-Lathamise the Labor Party's policies, Mr Beazley has told The Weekend Australian that lack of childcare was keeping women out of work, rather than government payouts keeping them at home.

"I don't actually think that, while Family Tax Benefit (Part) B is meant to attract women away from the workforce ... compared to the other disincentives it's significant," he said. "If you're going to provide for the next generation you do have to focus on families. There has to be a bias in the system towards families. "The biggest disincentive to women working is access to childcare; that's the biggest problem. The second-biggest problem is reward."

Mr Beazley attacked the Government for allowing millionaire families to get money under the benefit, and called for a $250,000 income limit. "Family tax B ought to have at least the means test applied to it," he said.

Mr Howard accused Labor this month of wanting to take benefits off mothers, in an aggressive speech naming families as the chief tax battleground. The Prime Minister said the ALP in government would dismantle the $13 billion Family Tax Benefit in favour of tax cuts for individuals and said the "people who will suffer most will be Australian women".

Mr Beazley told The Weekend Australian that he did not think the family payments system should be further expanded. "The more effective way of dealing with it may be through reductions in taxation as opposed to increases in family payments," he said.

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State Labor leader backs migrant crackdown

More recognition that it is Australian conservatives who now speak for working-class voters

Premier Peter Beattie has backed a Commonwealth proposal for prospective migrants to understand basic English and Australian values before they are allowed into Australia. Mr Beattie said migrants had made a "great contribution" to Australia and the proposal was reasonable to ensure people with the same democratic values entered the country. "I don't think it's unreasonable to expect certain standards . . . I don't think it's unreasonable to ensure that migrants that come here have an ability to understand English . . . Why wouldn't we expect people to be committed to the democratic values that we subscribe."

Federal MP Andrew Robb, parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, has said he would consider the introduction of a compulsory citizenship test. Prospective immigrants may have to pass an English test as well as learn Australian values, customs, laws and history. Mr Robb said English-speaking migrants were more likely to find work and this helped them to integrate better into the community and possibly combat problems like terrorism.



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