Alan Austin reports from France on Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s continental family Christmas vacation.
Tony Abbott's downhill run
TONY ABBOTT will be having a great holiday.
He is no doubt luxuriating in one of France’s snowfield resorts – built by collaboration between business and strong unions.
Abbott’s wife and daughters will love the social and cultural milieu. Well-funded free education has enabled most young Français to speak English and understand the world beyond their borders. The French are not despised by their neighbours. People are free to marry whoever they wish irrespective of gender. But it’s not compulsory. An unmarried president living with a partner is quite ordinaire.
Oh, and the French head of state actually comes from France and lives here.
Abbott is apparently travelling incognito. Or hiding in the Alps. No news whatsoever of his visit.
He will be desperate to avoid meeting Europeans outraged at his government’s twenty or so foreign affairs blunders — including disrupting the delicate Warsaw climate talks and his latest tawdry broken promise on protecting whales in international waters.
Abbott appears already to have displaced Silvio Berlusconi as the Western world’s favourite figure of derision and contempt.
Five recent press items in France expose:
- the rise of a sexist redneck – sexiste et beauf – in Australia;
- Abbott’s humiliation when Indonesia withdrew its ambassador;
- lobbyists for big polluters embedded in his government;
- how he was foiled – déjoué – by the Senate carbon tax vote; and
- his inept management already blowing out le déficit budgétaire.
Socialist president François Hollande was elected last year on a bold promise to impose a temporary 75 per cent supertax on incomes over a million euros. Few would have blamed him had he dumped the idea when it met ferocious opposition. But a promise is a promise. A vigorous court challenge has failed to stop the tax going through:
Having seen the effectiveness of carbon taxes such as Australia’s 2012 initiative, the French government will introduce a similar measure next year. Levied on all fossils fuels in proportion to emissions generated the carbon tax is expected to raise 4 billion euros (A$6.2 billion) by 2016. And it will cut emissions.
France’s Socialist government follows 17 years of right wing economic policy, which left the country with zero annual growth, unemployment above ten per cent, personal income tax at 47 per cent, a chronic current account deficit and debt approaching 90 per cent of GDP.
The experience of France through the global financial crisis was virtually the opposite of Australia’s under Labor. Australia increased spending and zoomed up from tenth best-run economy to the top of the global ranking. The hapless Nicolas Sarkozy cut welfare and services and halted investment. He then watched France stagnate to 40th in the world.
Après-ski, will Abbott reflect on the impact of those economic policies he seems set to copy?
The place of women in France will be bewildering to Tony. Perhaps daughter Louise who works in Switzerland might explain it to him.
Women are accepted as equal at all levels. All large corporations have female board members. Phone company Orange has 35 women among its top 100 executives.
Yet more is being done.
The government leads by example.
Hollande’s cabinet and junior ministry have 19 men and 19 women. Any premier in France who proposed to govern with a cabinet of 19 men and one woman would immediately be dans les toilettes.
Some French politicians have tried to exploit the plight of refugees fleeing famine, wars and persecution. Few have been rewarded with electoral success.
According to the UNHCR, France is now host to 221,869 refugees and 53,647 asylum seekers. That dwarfs Australia’s puny 30,083 and 25,218 respectively. And that despite Australia having fourteen times the land mass, low population and the world’s most robust economy.
Perhaps Abbott will ponder on the slopes what a downhill schuss for Australia the last three months have been — broken promises mounting weekly, fractured relations with most neighbours and allies, unprecedented internal cabinet conflict and now the economy heading for the precipice of serious deficits and debt.
Can he effect a pole plant and pivot then a nifty sideslip through the control markers? Or will he continue to plough on down the fall line towards the crevasse?
We’ll soon know.
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