Labor appears to have become ­incapable of taking the right decision at the right time.

What’s more, its populist rhetoric only means that when it does take the right decision, it doesn’t get any credit and has to revert to sophistry to justify a backdown.

The ALP’s politically savvy and economically correct decision yesterday to support the government’s fuel excise rise should have been made last year.

Instead, Labor’s blockade of the “unfair” 2014 budget meant Bill Shorten campaigned against Joe Hockey’s attempts to defrost John Howard’s politically expedient 2004 freeze on fuel as “unfair” and a whack to working families for more than a year.

As with the $2.4 billion in pension savings in this year’s budget, Shorten hammered the argument that the tax was unfair and would hit poorer people. Likewise, his constant accusation that Tony ­Abbott has ripped out $80 billion from hospitals and schools by not committing to the Gillard-Rudd funding promises beyond the budget years makes it harder for him each day not to commit to the spending himself.

On the fuel excise, as with the pension reform blockade, the ­Opposition Leader was facing a squeeze from the Greens, who were prepared to talk to the government about a deal on ratifying the excise rise — already being collected — in return for roads funding, public transport or cutting the diesel fuel rebate for miners and farmers.

The Greens’ pension deal cut the legs from under Shorten on “fairness” grounds and threatens to choke his attempt at a populist campaign among older Australians at birth. It certainly made the Greens’ new leader, Richard Di Natale, look more economically credible than the Labor leader.

So, facing the same squeeze and damage to his credibility, Shorten backflipped on the blockade, ­offered to support the rise if $1.1bn went to local road building and blamed the Coalition’s trickiness in suggesting fuel excise already paid would have to be refunded to the oil companies if the regulation wasn’t ratified.

Announcing the change yesterday, Shorten said: “Labor has looked at the choice between handing back the government’s fuel excise to oil companies or providing better funding for regional and suburban roads.”

The only reason the fuel excise was being collected without ratification was because of Labor’s ­opposition for more than a year. Labor could have done the same deal last year when not under pressure from the Greens and have so much more economic credibility.

Extracted in full from The Australian.

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