03 May 2008

The failure of Tony Abbott

This brain-fart from Tony Abbott shows that he is going to be no use whatsoever in getting the Liberals back into government. He still wears the crusty mantle of arrogance that comes from too long in power, he has no sympathy for hard-working families and is fundamentally politically unbalanced.

Abbott thinks he can counter the nanny-state government-knows-best mentality of Labor with the same mentality among Liberals. This is a mistake. In the 1980s, Liberal moderates tried staying close to Labor but failed to create product differentiation; they were replaced in the early '90s on the path back to office. While it is understandable that a long-serving government minister finds it hard to snap out of a government-centred mentality, it is important for his party that he snaps out of it. Kim Beazley failed to leave a government mentality behind and therefore could not beat the incumbent government: Abbott is going the same way.

The first two paragraphs are an exercise in nostalgia. Malcolm Fraser never indulged himself in nostalgia to the extent that Abbott does. He certainly never moaned about being demoted by the popular will or his personal finances. Abbott fans think he's a tough guy and an intellectual, but he's neither of these and much less of anything else.
... the carrots and sticks the government built into the welfare system may have been almost as significant as economic growth.

Or, may not. This is pissweak reasoning and does not help Liberals make a case for regaining government. If you lack respect for your own achievements, you can't rally others to build on them. The "sticks and carrots" is a reference to the motivation of donkeys, and ignores the fact that other incentives and assistance is required for humans. Pity there's no exploration, no interest in what these might involve.
The Howard government was "radical" because it departed from a generation's conventional wisdom but "conservative" because its changes reflected the traditional thinking that the world owes no one a living.

If you're liberal you can balance out the excesses and fatuities of both radicals and conservatives. If you're like most rightwing opinion-formers - an old Leninist, unable to escape the mental frameworks of a lifetime yet with a bent for punishing-and-straightening, you're more concerned with blowing hot and cold rather than making government work for people.
[The Howard government] was convinced that welfare systems had to provide incentives and meet needs.

Other systems have to provide incentives too. You can't just build these into the welfare systems, and not do those systems exist in isolation from other systems operating throughout the community. Find out what they are and map welfare systems to them, rather than lashing extinct Whitlamites.
Last year's Northern Territory intervention legislation quarantined not only welfare payments in designated townships but also payments wherever recipients' children were not at school or were subject to child protection concerns.

People do not need external incentives to be good parents and those who are do not deserve further limitations on their capacity to provide for their children. Someone who spends so little time with his own family should baulk at the implications of being "subject to child protection concerns", a passive state from which nobody can fully escape.
A government that is serious about ensuring that welfare payments are used for the benefit of families is likely to stick with the present territory system.

This raises the further question: if the automatic quarantining of welfare payments is just and fair in remote Aboriginal townships, why not implement something like it elsewhere? Just as the Community Development Employment Project was a form of Aboriginal work-for the dole which eventually became generally applicable, why not set aside - for the essentials of life - half the government payments of all welfare dependent people with young children?

Welfare-dependent families don't have much disposable income. Quarantining 50 per of their benefits could help to ensure a roof over their head and food on the table.

He really does believe that government knows best. He really thinks all individuals in all communities should be further limited in the options open to them. He really does believe that he cares more for other people's families than they do themselves. Even where he cannot prove that a welfare recipient won't provide for dependents, Abbott would treat them no better than the irresponsible and self-destructive, decreasing incentives for self-reliance and independence.

Rather than consider policy from a government-centric perspective, he needs to get amongst people on welfare, find out what it actually takes (rather than "may" take) to get people off welfare. It's labour-intensive but it is the only way to beat Rudd: to make government work for people rather than the reverse.

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