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Why The Carbon Tax Is Not Like The GST

"Gillard should call an election on the carbon tax, we had one on the GST!" is one of the many cries from opponents of the Government's proposed carbon tax. The line runs that whilst Howard may have about-faced on his promise to never, ever introduce a GST, he bravely took it to the polls, won a mandate and we were all blissfully happy with the consumption tax.

Like so much elese in the carbon tax debate, this premise is just plain wrong. First of all, there were many issues in the 1998 Federal Election - the Asian economic crisis, the crippling cuts made by the Howard government to public services, the rise of One Nation and nationalism in Australian politics, even (hard as it is to believe now), the Republic. In a democracy, no general election is a referendum on a single issue; that is something more akin to mob rule.

Second, and slightly more critical to our argument here - there was no mandate on the GST. The Coalition lost the popular vote, 49.02% to 50.98%; only winning overall on number of seats. The Australian public did not vote for a GST or endorse it, and whilst Howard never made any pretence of his desire to introduce a consumption tax, it was never a done deal with these results. Without enough bums on seats in parliament, he was reliant on deals with the Democrats (ensuring their eventual demise as a political party) in order to get the GST through.

Gillard did promise not to introduce a carbon tax under a government she led, but she couldn't reasonably have forseen the outcome of the 2010 Federal election. In the end, we got what we voted for - no side could form a clear majority. This is nothing new, but it's nothing like the "GST election" that never was.