The polishing and buffing of Tony Abbott

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A few weeks ago the claim that Tony Abbott is a "changed man" was laid to waste. Clint Howitt concludes his two part series and explains why the Coalition is just too risky.

[Read Part One: The polishing of Tony Abbott]
(Image courtesy Matt Bissett-Johnson.)
(Image courtesy Matt Bissett-Johnson.)

MILITARY SUCCESS depends on four pillars: good strategy, good planning, good leadership and good luck.

The same could be said about success in the political fray.

These four pillars offer a useful framework for assessing how well the Coalition is shaping up for the possibility of winning government.

The Coalition's diversion strategy

The Coalition’s diversion strategy can be boiled down to four core principles:

1. Keep the focus on the government

The focus of the Coalition strategy has been to discredit the Gillard Government. On this score, Abbott has – at least on face value – performed effectively. But the fact of the matter is that, in the process of doing so, Abbott and his team have left a trail of deceit.

He clearly subscribes to the saying ‘attack is the best defence’. This strategy has played well into Abbott’s well known and storied combative nature. He manipulates media opportunities in order to keep the government constantly on the back foot.

This has created his desired outcome — an appearance of incompetence or rolling crisis.

There has been an incentive to behave in this manner due to the nature of the current minority government. He sees Labor’s numbers as precarious. It is his view that a motion of no confidence – well timed – could trigger an early election.

At the top of the Coalition’s targets is, of course, the carbon price. During the course of the last few years Abbott has mounted a relentless fear campaign, brazenly exaggerating its impact on the economy and Australian households.

He has also relentlessly attacked Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s credibility. He has attempted to cast doubt on her honesty over pricing carbon, her legitimacy over replacing Kevin Rudd as prime minister, and even her marital status — with his snide remark in the House of Representatives that she "make an honest woman of herself."

And if, as the nation's first female prime minister, she displayed any sign of vulnerability — he could argue she was not up to the demands of the top job.

Finally, the issue with a proven track record for the Coalition — the arrival of asylum seeker boats.

This played well for John Howard in the past, most notably in the 2001 federal election in the post September 11 world. Abbott, along with Shadow Immigration Spokesperson Scott Morrison, have shamelessly whipped up the fear and xenophobia that tends to surround this sensitive and historically difficult issue.

2. Present a small target

While keeping the focus on the Government, his strategy is to keep scrutiny of the Coalition to an absolute minimum.

Abbott is notorious for being unavailable for in-depth interviews — and after his shocking performances with Laurie Oakes and Leigh Sales it’s not hard to see why. He avoids certain shows – like ABC's 7:30, Q&A and Lateline as well as Ten's Meet the Press – like the plague.

In fact, he hasn't been on Q&A since the 2010 federal election campaign. This is despite there being a standing invitation on that show as well as Lateline.

On the rare occasions he does subject himself to longer one-on-one interviews, it is usually with a clearly sympathetic interviewer. His favourites seem to be Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt and interviews with them are always a breeze and more often than not a free Coalition advertisement.

He is a big fan of media stunts – hard hat and yellow safety vest – media circus in train. Tony Abbott: the man of action. It typically consists of him at the controls of something like a fire engine or excavator or him wearing a hair net or cap observing a factory production line, feigning interest.

These stunts are typically capped off by a prepared statement critical of the government and then a couple of questions from the media.

He walks away once he feels he has said all he needs to or he is being asked tough questions. It annoys many in the press gallery. Yet, despite this, he refused to rule out continuing the practice when asked about it earlier this year.

Key to his small target strategy is the withholding of costed detailed Coalition policies. Until recently he has deliberately kept Australians completely in the dark apart about his agenda and vision for the country.

Earlier this year he released a plan, in the form of a vague 'Real Solutions' coloured pamphlet, devoid of any specific detail. This pamphlet is constantly waved around for the cameras at press conferences, in lieu of any real policies.

It's riddled with "aspirations" and motherhood statements and contains all the populist slogans he repeats ad nauseum.

3. Keep it simple

The Coalition's slogans have been pared down to three or four words: 'end the waste', 'pay off the debt', 'great big new tax' and 'stop the boats', amongst others.

He presents issues in simplistic terms – as black and white. This seems to be based on the idea that voters are incapable of comprehending complex concepts and issues.

Tony Abbott repeats catchphrases and slogans in anticipation that people will accept them as fact.

Constantly dripping water, after all, will eventually wear away granite.

Difficult issues are given only the most superficial, cursory treatment. Once more, the assumption, it would seem, appears to be that the public would struggle with the topics being addressed.

Simplistic, untested and publicly unscrutinised solutions to intractable problems are trotted by the Coalition as if they are the glaringly obvious panacea.

We would do well to remember the cautioning words of American journalist H. L. Mencken’s:
'For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.'
Tony Abbott puts his little blue book under his chin at every chance.

4. Exploitation of fear and populism

The most effective, and most primitive, emotion to target in politics is fear.

Mencken also has something to say in relation to using fear in politics:
'The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.'
Fear is a highly motivating emotion, likely to at times over-ride rationality. Advertisers use it regularly for this exact reason.

In Australian politics, nothing exemplifies Mencken’s wise words more than Abbott’s carbon price fear campaign. That and “illegal” asylum seekers.
(Image courtesy David Pope / Fairfax Media.)

He prophesied that the carbon price would be, among other horrors, a “cobra strike”, a “python squeeze”, a “wrecking ball through the economy” and would “wipe Whyalla off the map”.  Abbott was eventually forced to concede it had not been “absolutely catastrophic”.

It is important here to distinguish between the meaning of the word 'populism' as distinct from the word 'popular'.

Populism is a superficial political tactic that involves offering crude solutions or policies that appeal to the politically naive rather than respond to the intricacies of an issue.

Examples of populism through the ages include pronouncements that “witches” be burnt at the stake, the idea that Earth is flat, that women should be denied the vote and, closer to home, a statement by Tony Abbott that climate change is crap. Enough said?

Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce, currently attempting to dislodge Tony Windsor from the NSW seat of New England, is an unashamed populist. For him, flippant one-liners are an adequate substitute for serious debate.

His claim that the carbon price would lead to $100 roasts has been thoroughly discredited as an example of the behaviour he regularly engages in and has become widely known for. It seems as long as it gets him in the news he's happy.

He recently came under pressure to declare rumours surrounding Gina Rinehart donating significant amounts of money to his campaign:

All these are tempting tactic to use when engaging in political campaigns. It is, in reality, cynical politics at its worst and most manipulative and refuses to acknowledge a basic truism — complex problems require complex solutions.

An assessment of the Coalition’s strategy

A quick assessment of these tactics would suggest they have paid off for the Coalition.

Keep in mind there are other influences that have played a role in the current political landscape.

Under Australian Consumer Law, any advertisement or promotion deemed to be ‘false or misleading’ carries penalties of up to ‘$220,000 for an individual and $1.1 million for a body corporate’. This law can be applied to an individual who makes a statement and ‘knew it was untrue or incorrect, did not care whether it was true or not, or had no reasonable grounds for making it’ or did not allow ‘sufficient time to read an agreement, ask questions.’

It seems there is a well documented case to be made that numerous claims of the Coalition, over the last three years, were knowingly ‘false and misleading’.

Many of their claims have been shown to be ‘untrue or incorrect’, they most certainly had ‘no reasonable grounds’ and most certainly ‘did not care’ if there were true or false.

By appearing, at this stage, intent on withholding their policies until the last minute, they will not allow voters ‘sufficient time to read’ them and ‘ask questions’. This would not allow voters ‘sufficient time to read’ them and ‘ask questions’.

Sadly, many appear to be taken in by this cynical campaign. A concerted campaign based on deceit, exaggeration, concealment, manipulation, that appeals to the darker instincts in some people.

It is tragic that Australians would even consider entrusting the government of our country to a party that engages in a deliberate strategy of deception and secrecy.


In the unfortunate event of the election of a Coalition government, the sad reality is that by the time voters realise they have been deceived, it will be too late.

One can only hope that, with the election campaign proper looming, there will be increased scrutiny of the Coalition’s duplicity — not to mention the flimsiness of their policies.

Shoddy policy planning

At the core of any credible election campaign is policy. That is where the heavy lifting is done. On this front the Gillard Government has the opposition easily accounted for.

During this parliament, the Gillard Government has shown the initiative to develop and implement detailed visionary nation building policies.

These policies include Disability Care Australia (NDIS), the National Plan for School Improvement (Gonski) and Clean Energy Future (carbon price). These are truly landmark reforms and sit amongst many other significant achievements across all portfolios.

In contrast, Tony Abbott's Coalition actively opposes most of these reform. It appears that they seek to protect privilege and vested interests.

In fact, one is hard pressed to think of a single long-term visionary reform brought in during a conservative Australian government. This is because conservatives are reactive, not proactive. The Howard Government’s praiseworthy gun buy-back scheme is a case in point. As admirable as it was, it was in response to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.

The GST wasn't a new idea. The proposition had existed for decades by the time it was eventually implemented in 2000. This is despite John Howard, as Opposition leader in the late 1980s, using the unequivocal words never, ever, it's dead in relation to the likelihood of it being Coalition policy in the future.

Sound familiar?

John Hewson developed the core of the policy as part of the failed 'Fightback!' agenda that lost him the 1993 election against all odds.

Howard was Johnnie-come-lately.

Howard himself nominates his significant achievements as: financial deregulation, taxation reform, industrial relation reform, lowering tariffs and selling government assets.

These reforms might excite big business, but it’s hardly the kind of policy that captures the public's imagination.

The current Opposition promises a return to the Howard years. Their threadbare policy offering portrays either laziness or a complete lack of original ideas.

This less than impressive agenda for our country’s future is borne of the sole desire and focus on wining the strategic parliamentary battle, as well as the 24 hour news cycle.

Their meagre plan for government relies, almost entirely, on the tried and true conservative austerity agenda. Over the last three years all we have heard is what he will scrap or not proceed with one ALP initiative after another — the National Broadband Network, the carbon price, the National Plan for School Improvement, the Schoolkids Bonus, the tripling of the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,200, the removal of the 15 per cent superannuation tax for those on low incomes (worth up to $500) and the Mining Resources Rent Tax.

He has since meekly retreated from some of these commitments.

Abbott seems more than willing to blithely ignore the truism — good decisions are based on good information.

He appears to formulate policy on the basis of what he perceives as the most politically beneficial position rather than a detailed study of an issue.

Even if you don’t always agree with her policies, it is impossible to deny Julia Gillard does her homework. She consults and acts on the advice of experts — like the Houston Panel, David Gonski, Tim Flannery and departmental officers in the public service.

By contrast, Abbott has regularly been caught out by not being across the detail of his own policies (or others for that matter). This is either because they are not fully developed or because he hasn't bothered to acquaint himself with the facts and reality. For a would-be prime minister, he displays deplorable ignorance of the fine print.

Remember, this is the man who has been described by former prime minister Paul Keating as having “no policy ambition” and labelled an “economic illiterate” by former Coalition treasurer Peter Costello.

Former Coalition leader John Hewson – whom Tony Abbott once worked for – seems reluctant to heap him with praise, as are many on his side of politics.

Last month, when asked about the arrangements for same sex couples under his proposed Paid Parental Leave Scheme, he was unable to give a simple answer. He just flippantly stated, “it would all be explained later.”

This raises the obvious question: had he even considered this situation when developing the policy?

During the 2010 election campaign, ABC 7:30's former host Kerry O’Brien asked Abbott to give him some basic answers about his then broadband policy — a wireless network alternative to the NBN. Questions along the lines of: “How many towers would it require?” and “What's peak speed?”

Abbott was none the wiser — he simply couldn’t answer.

His limp nervous response was:
“I'm no Bill Gates here and I don't claim to be any kind of tech head in all of this.”
This failure to be across fundamental details may go a distance to explaining why the Coalition is backflipping on so many fronts.

There are a litany of “flexible” policy positions, where the Coalition has had to modify long trumpeted previously clearly enunciated promises. These changes seem to be an admission that more nuance is required when assessing some of the key policy areas.

This led Laurie Oakes to joke that Abbott has had
“...more positions than the Karma Sutra.”
After saying climate change is “crap” he seems to now believe in it. They will construct an NBN, of sorts. As cheap an imitation as it is. He even begrudgingly agreed to support Disability Care Australia — after all states and territories but Western Australia signed up for the promised funding arrangements.

No longer is it simply “stop the boats” or “scrap the Carbon Tax”. More back flips are to be expected in coming months.

The pattern that has emerged amounts to a three stage sabotage procedure:

  • strenuously oppose the big policy initiatives of the government;

  • promise to abolish or dismantle them; and

  • failing that, weaken the reforms as much as possible.

However, if the reforms have overwhelming public support – then and only then – embrace them.

He's a self-described “weather-vane” on policy and a blatant populist above all else.

The Coalition’s policy shambles

The policies of the parties, as always, must be the critical factor in determining who deserves our vote.

The country would be better served if our eventually choice of government was based on which set of policies most benefit the nation, rather than the increasingly prevalent ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality.

It's not feasible to give a provide detailed examinations of all the policies of both two major parties; with this in mind the following overview relates to six key policy areas:

1. The National Plan for School Improvement

Like most areas of Coalition policy, it is hard to pin down their position on education reform. They have had numerous positions on the Gonski Report and the subsequent government reform agenda.

On one hand, they are making approving noises in regard to the Gonski Report's recommendation. On the other, they refuse to support the National Plan for School Improvement unless all the states agree to sign up. They are known to be lobbying Coalition premiers from Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia and the Chief Minister of Northern Territory. Opposition Education Spokesperson Christopher Pyne was recently reported to have been lobbying the Labor premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill to reject the national education reforms. Their commitment to real education reform is highly questionable.

Not only has the Opposition failed to state an unambiguous position on the Gonski reforms, they are yet to release a detailed policy of their own.

This leaves us to read between the lines of statements made by Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne.

The Gonski Report unambiguously states there is a
'...clear relationship between the socioeconomic backgrounds of students and their school performance.'
It continues:
'...in line with their (students) levels of need, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students, and under-performing schools will require additional support.'
Tony Abbott claims:
“The only way to ensure no school is worse off is to stick with the existing system.”
He has also said that he believes, contrary to all the available evidence, the current school funding arrangements are adequate. Christopher Pyne has backed him up strongly in his statements.

Pyne prefers to talk about issues such as “teacher quality” and the content of the curriculum.

Their position is prefaced on the idea that the budget would be stretched to fund the reforms. It would, however, entrench privilege and inequality through the current broken funding model of the Howard era.

2. DisabilityCare Australia (NDIS)

After two days of obfuscation over the proposed 0.5 per cent rise in the Medicare levy to fund DisabilityCare Australia, Mr Abbott backpedalled and supported the increase and the national reforms.

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey had previously strongly rejected the increase in the levy, in contrast to his leader's lack of position.

The Coalition back down came after the Prime Minister said she intended to fight the election on the increase in the Medicare levy and the reforms.

Surveys revealed the Australian public overwhelmingly back the reforms, as well as the increased levy.

It is quite clear Tony Abbott was reluctant to fight an election on this issue and moved to attempt to negate it before the election campaign proper.

There is no assurance the funding and reforms would remain in place for the long term under an Abbott Government.

He has attempted to claim credit for the policy saying the reforms belong to the entire parliament. This claim is not to be believed given his opposition over the last few years.

This is a Labor reform. From beginning to end it is a policy in the best traditions of Labor and Labor values.

His last minute support is to be applauded, but it is quite clear he knew rejecting the popular changes would hurt him politically.

3. The National Broadband Network

The Coalition went to the 2010 election promising to dismantle the NBN. Their policy was based around the construction of a wireless network.

This time around they appear to have been persuaded by Shadow Communications Spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull that high speed fibre optics is the better option.

Amidst glitter and fanfare at their buddy's Fox Sport studios, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull held what can only be described as an incredibly awkward policy announcement. This was before questions regarding “VDSL2+, with vectoring” completely flummoxed the non “tech head” Tony Abbott who passed off to his communications spokesperson at every opportunity.

Abbott was clearly not across his brief, as usual, and – it must be said – Malcolm Turnbull didn't perform much better. Surprising, given he is hailed as a critical figure in the development of the internet in Australia by his leader, who embarrassingly dubbed him “Mr. Broadband”.


The Coalition policy rejects the fibre to the premise model (FTTP), instead opting for an uninspiring fibre to the node (FTTN) alternative. This means instead of high speed broadband going straight to homes it will go to a hub (or node) at the end of the street and travel by the existing copper network to the home.

Turnbull has openly acknowledged the copper network will eventually need to be upgraded. There will be a significant cost associated with that. A cheaper, inferior, temporary offering from the Coalition.

Demand for bandwidth is predicted to triple in the next three years. This exponential increase in demand will not slow down as more nsAustralia start to use broadband in various new ways. These new, and ever expanding applications, need a 21st century solution.

The Coalition policy is 75 per cent of the cost of the Labor plan, yet only 25 per cent of the speed. Cost benefit analysis anyone?

Turnbull defended his policy saying: “...it's a proven one”, using the examples of British Telelcom in the UK and AT&T in the United States. Surely they (at least Turnbull) must have known that their policy was a dud? Anyone with any understanding of the trajectory of internet demands could easily expose its shortcomings.

It didn’t take long.

IT expert Paul Budde revealed AT&T has abandoned more than 50 per cent of its geographical territory. In areas where their hybrid network is available it does not match the FTTP network’s capabilities. This is simply because insufficient investment has been made in the last mile.

Many of their customers have ditched their service and opted for a FTTP connection. AT&T lost almost 100,000 broadband customers in the second quarter of this year as customers in non-upgraded areas moved to FTTP.

Maybe we need a prime minister who has gone beyond their IT ‘L plates’ to appreciate and cater for Australia's internet demand into the future?

4. Asylum seekers

To many, the Coalition’s stance on asylum seekers is a national disgrace. It amounts to no more than cynical opportunism.

Such a fraught issue cries out for a bipartisan approach to develop a regional solution. The Houston Panel, established to come up with answers for addressing the issue, made that perfectly clear.

The Gillard Government repeatedly offered to work with the Coalition. However, true to form, Abbott has chose the cynical option, amounting to what can only be described as fomenting and exploiting xenophobia.

Abbott and Opposition Immigration Spokesperson Scott Morrison have willfully ignored all our legal obligations in this matter. They have repeatedly demonised asylum seekers as “illegals”. A pejorative term that must give the UNHCR cause for alarm.

Whenever a new boat appears, Morrison continues his fear campaign. The accusation that is most commonly leveled at the government is that they have “lost control of our borders”.

The Coalition’s promise to “turn back the boats” most clearly highlights their desire to sloganeer instead of developing well thought out practical policy measures.

They show an alarming ignorance of international and Australian maritime law. It's a sea captain's duty is to rescue asylum seekers from danger.

Unlike Abbott and Morrison, who have learned nothing from the SIEV X incident, the Navy is acutely aware of the dangers. In an effort to thwart former Prime Minister John Howard’s determination to turn the boats around, people smugglers ordered the crew to disable it.

As a result of this, nine Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel were blown into the water and were lucky to survive. Abbott's assertion that people join the ADF to do these kind of things is as crass as it gets.

Turning boats back puts the ADF personnel at risk. Several respected Defence experts have said as much.

This, apart from the impracticality of towing a unseaworthy fishing boat for up to 400km in heavy swells back to Indonesian waters.

Former Australian Defence Force chief Admiral Chris Barrie (retired) has been particularly outspoken about the ramifications of the Abbott-Morrison solution. The toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance.

Last, but not least: the Indonesian Government won't agree to the policy. Returning boats would be in defiance of their explicitly stated position that they will not accept the boats back.

This was recently confirmed emphatically by Indonesia’s Ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema.

This puts at stake one of our most crucial regional partnerships. We need to work cooperatively with them if there is ever going to be a regional solution to the refugee issue.

5. Pricing carbon

Tony Abbott’s commitment to dealing with climate change is as dubious as his “Direct Action” policy itself. Remember, this is the man who said years ago that climate change was “crap”.

Experts, including Al Gore, have concluded, based on all available evidence, his 'real solution' would be costly and ineffective.

Former Melbourne Business School Professor Joshua Gans has outlined why “direct action” not the best mechanism to address climate change.

It involves paying $10 billion of tax payer's money to polluters who undertake to reduce emissions. Under Abbott's plan, instead of the polluters paying the community, the community pays the polluters.

The plan also involves what is called 'carbon sequestration'.

Alarmingly, the CSIRO has cast serious doubts over the favoured method of carbon sequestration.

The Coalition would supplement carbon sequestration with the large scale planting of trees. For this to have any meaningful impact would require the use of large plots of arable land that would otherwise be used for important food production. An analysis of the plan found that, even allowing for the most optimistic predictions, the number of trees, the area of land required and the on-going costs of management including fire mitigation, would render it nonviable.

The most frustrating aspect of all this is we will have to revert to a carbon price or an emissions trading scheme (ETS) – like the one already set to come in under the present Government from 2015 – sometime in the future. This is an unnecessary cost and inconvenience when we are already world leaders on that path now.

6. Industrial relations

Although Abbott has declared Work Choices “dead buried and cremated,” there are good reasons to be suspicious. This is the same man who, in 2008, described WorkChoices as being
“...good for wages, good for jobs and it was good for workers.”
He has described his policy as “evolutionary”. This means we can expect ongoing changes.

On the day of their new industrial relations policy announcement, Shadow Employment and Workplace Relations Spokesperson Eric Abetz appeared on ABC’s 7.30 and made a telling Freudian slip.

In referring to the fact the business community were unhappy with the limited changes to the Fair Work Act announced, he said:
“... business is upset that we haven’t done everything that we… they … wanted us to do.”
The accompanying look of alarm seemed to say it all.

There are many disgruntled at the policy, inside and outside the Coalition. They continue to put pressure on Abbott to go much further, these include former Howard Government minister Peter Reith and only today Liberal Victorian Premier Denis Napthine.

There are also the contributions of the radical Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), a far-right think tank, which seem to be alarmingly close to Abbott and potentially setting the Coalition’s secret agenda for after the election.

The secret agenda

The major concern about a future Abbott Government is not what they have told us they plan to do as much as It is what we haven’t been told.

We however, based on past history, can make some educated guesses.

In April this year, Abbott was guest speaker at the 70th anniversary dinner of the IPA. Invited guests included such right-wing luminaries as Gina Rinehart, Andrew Bolt and Rupert Murdoch.

The IPA have drawn up a “wish-list” for the Australia they want to create. It is entitled “Be Like Gough: 75 Radical Ideas to Transform Australia.”

A few of their ideas include:

  • All measures designed to deal with Climate Change would be dismantled, even withdrawing our Kyoto Protocol pledge.

  • Scrap education reforms.

  • Regulatory bodies including the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Foreign Investment Review Board would be abolished as would a raft of regulatory reforms.

  • Scrap public health protection measures such as plain packaging for cigarettes

  • Loosen media ownership laws.

  • Privatise the Australian Broadcasting Company.

  • Scrap environmental protection laws.

  • Privatise SBS, Medibank, Australia Post, the Australian Institute of Sport, the CSIRO and the Snowy-Hydro Scheme among others.

  • Repeal the Fair Work Act.

  • Return to individual contracts (AWAs).

  • Sack nearly 50,000 public servants.

  • And increase the number of 457 visas for foreign workers.

Abbott promised to immediately implement the top three items on their agenda, saying:
“I want to assure you that the Coalition will indeed repeal the carbon price, abolish the Department of Climate Change, abolish the Clean Energy Fund.”
This was followed by rapturous applause.

He continued:
“We will repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, at least in its current form. We will abolish new health and environmental bureaucracies. We will deliver $1 billion in red tape savings every year. We will develop northern Australia. We will repeal the mining tax. We will create a one stop shop for environmental approvals. We will privatise Medibank Private. We will trim the public service and we will stop throwing good money after bad on the NBN.”
Through the period of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), we have witnessed first hand the disastrous consequences of finance and banking deregulation.

It seems Abbott is shaping to remove any obstacles in the way of big business, who just happen to be making massive donations to the Coalition.

In Queensland, there is an indication of what an Abbott Government would look like. They are currently experiencing the severe austerity measures of the LNP Newman Government. Tony Abbott has stated he supports the measures and Joe Hockey doesn't think they are that bad.

Queenslanders are well aware of how Campbell Newman gave solemn undertakings. A significant number of which he has promptly broken after coming to office.

To add insult to injury, Premier Newman has introduced draconian measures that were never mentioned before the election.

Ask the 14,000 public servants who were sacked.

Ask the people suffering from AIDS who have had their services cut.

Ask electricity consumers who are paying 22% extra for their electricity despite promises to bring the prices down.

Ask the children, parents and teachers at schools that are being closed.

Ask the permanent residents of government owned caravan parks, some of the most vulnerable Queenslanders, having their homes being sold from under them.

Ask environmentalists who are seeing Labor's tree-clearing laws being repealed, opening up two million hectares of bushland to the bulldozers and National Parks being opened to cattle grazing.

Ask emerging writers about the abolition of the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, which gave encouragement and assistance to young authors.

Harsh austerity don't work. They make no sense when our debt levels, unlike those in Europe and America, are at perfectly manageable levels. It is just subjecting working people to misery for the sake of the ideological goal of an unnecessarily rushed surplus.

Leadership failure

Two key attributes that are essential to good leadership are decisiveness and credibility.

There were two doorstops done by Tony Abbott last month which were significant because they pointed to his failures in these two fundamental areas:


After Kevin Rudd announced that he had changed his view on same sex marriage, Tony Abbott solemnly affirmed:
“Kevin Rudd may have changed his mind, but I have not changed my mind.”

Well the record of him changing his mind, repeatedly, is plain for all to see. Maybe he hasn't changed his mind on gay marriage, but he has shifted with unsettling regularity on issue after another over the last few years.

He is trying desperately to portray himself as a man of rock solid trustworthiness and unwavering conviction.

The evidence suggests otherwise:

  • four different stances on climate change and pricing carbon;

  • three different policies on paid parental leave;

  • two stances on immigration;

  • three positions on the baby bonus; and

  • several positions on the amount of tax to be paid on superannuation.

A selection of other areas of inconsistency include: welfare payments to high income earners, the size of the refugee intake, the ceiling on immigration, the impact of the carbon price (from ‘absolutely catastrophic’ to ‘worse off’), moving a motion of no confidence over the budget, and whether or not he will establish an inquiry into the AWU accusations against the PM.

Combine this with his complete lack of policy detail. Nobody really knows what Abbott does stand for.

He will say and do “whatever it takes” to become prime minister.

Lack of credibility

On 30 May, Abbott did a doorstop press conference regarding a written undertaking he had given to the prime minister. It was in relation to the Coalition's support for a bill to enable increased electoral funding for political parties.

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus revealed he had put commitment in writing:
''I am satisfied with the agreement reached and I indicate the Coalition's intention to support the legislation and deal with it as requested before the end of sittings.''
It was revealed this commitment was made with little or no consultation with his party or even his shadow cabinet. There was vocal dissent within the party and it threatened the Coalition’s stability. Facing a severe internal backlash Abbott was forced to renege on his commitment.

This particular media appearance is significant on two counts. Abbott noticeably had no support standing behind him. Abandoned by his colleagues some might say.

The fact he was rolled in the party room is also significant. This makes the ‘rock solid’ support he claims to have behind him look a little more tenuous.

The other reason it is significant is because, once again, Abbott has again failed the honesty test. The standard he set for himself during a 2010 Kerry O’Brien interview during the election campaign. During the 7.30 Report he was pulled up on one of the numerous occasions he was caught out making outrageous claims.

He revealingly replied:
“.. in the heat of discussion you go a little bit further than you would if it was absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted.”

He stated we should only believe his “carefully scripted remarks”.

This letter was a carefully scripted letter and it seems it carried no more weight than one of his reckless comments in the “heat of discussion.”

He horribly fails to meet the standards of political integrity he wants to set for Labor and the prime minister.

Another classic case is the hypocrisy he displays over his repeated accusations against Julia Gillard that she “lied” to the public over the carbon price.

He has constantly dismissed her defence that the “circumstances changed” after the election. Yet in 2004, as Health Minister, he gave “an absolutely rock solid, ironclad commitment” to maintain the Medicare safety net levels.

A year later, when the Coalition broke that commitment, raising the Medicare safety net levels, Abbott said:
“When I made that statement in the election campaign I had not the slightest inkling that there would ever be any intention to change this, but obviously when circumstances change, governments do change their opinions.”
Once more, hypocrisy follows Tony Abbott wherever he goes.

The fickleness of Lady Luck

On the question of leadership Karl Marx once observed that while leaders make their own history, they do not make it under circumstances of their own choosing. It is those “circumstances” that determine whether their time in office was characterised by “good luck” or “bad luck.”

For example a leader in power during an economic boom, like John Howard, had a seemingly easier ride than Julia Gillard, and Kevin Rudd for that matter, who came to power at the height of the GFC.

The circumstances Labor has faced over the last 5 years is enough to give any government nightmares.

Any fair minded observer should be prepared and able to give credit to the Gillard Government for the amount it has achieved through economic adversity and a hung parliament.

The GFC has crippled the economies of so many other nations in the western world — but not Australia’s.

Australia is one of only two developed countries to not experience a recession. We celebrated 21 straight years of economic growth this year — an achievement almost unheard of.

From the beginning there has been relentless hostility directed at her personally by Abbott and the Coalition. Powerful mainstream media forces have played their part, selling a sense of constant crisis. The Murdoch press has openly and unashamedly campaigned against the government not to mention the vicious unwarranted attacks on her by shock jocks on talkback radio.

Gina Rinehart sought to gain control of Fairfax Media with the clear intention of using it as a political propaganda weapon. She has a significant holding in both Fairfax and Network Ten and played a crucial part in creating a television platform for her friend, Andrew Bolt, to spew his overblown and condescending anti-Labor propaganda.

The advent of the 24-hour news cycle has also played its part. The scrutiny on governments and individuals has never been more intense.

There have been serious internal distractions within the Labor Party which were not of the PM’s making, but which adversely and unfairly impacted on her leadership.

Decision Time

Despite all the challenges facing the country for the last three years, the Gillard Government has made historical improvements to our nation.

These improvements are perhaps reflected in the fact that for the entire term of her government, 2011, 2012  and 2013, Australia has topped the OECD Better Life Index.

The survey examines aspects of our lives which are strongly influenced by government policy — housing, income, education, employment, environment, health, work-life balance and personal safety.

Our happiness is a result how our lives are impacted by decisions of government. It is something the Gillard Government can legitimately claim credit for. It demonstrates their policies have been delivering.

Abbott has been insisting the Coalition is “ready to govern.”

The facts as clearly stated here strongly suggest otherwise.

Not only is Tony Abbott threatening the present Government's very important achievements, he is offering an unimpressive alternative vision for Australia.

He is simply not worth the risk.

Polishing Tony Abbott
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