Lost near Fossil Creek
Tony Abbott has set back the issue of paid parental leave with his hasty, ill-considered and credibility-free outburst. He's also demonstrating the sort of hubris that classical rise-and-fall stories are made of.
Abbott promised to consult with his parliamentary colleagues before making policy announcments. In springing this policy upon them, and his shadow cabinet, Abbott is being every bit as imperious as Turnbull - or John Howard. He is daring them to defy him, and they won't for a number of reasons:
- The Liberal Party has an acute case of Fuehrerprinzip, where the leader is all-important and must be supported (until his position beomes untenable).
- Abbott's position among women voters - the essential demographic for the Liberal vote - needs work, and there will be a desire to give Abbott the benefit of the doubt. Apart from the odd wife/daughter with a bit of nous, the fossils known as Liberal MPs will have no reference point for how unconvincng Abbott's outburst is for women, how little it will factor in to changing votes where the Liberal Party needs them to change.
- Post-Fightback! Liberals will never go in for carefully detailed policy when a big splashy stunt will do.
- Abbott is the third Liberal leader in as many years. Any Liberal who has a problem with this policy, or the non-consultation aspects of it: suck it up, bite your lip, and sell sell sell.
The fact that business has come out against the parental leave policy - big business is stridently hostile and small business is very, very quiet - will be a source of great angst within the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party did not get where it is today by slugging business with new taxes. Liberals with a chance of winning government (especially now that health has been moved off the state political table, thanks Mr Rudd!), like Barry O'Farrell and Isobel Redmond, will find it harder to raise funds after this outburst. People like Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb would be having their ears bent by senior business people within the Thirty-Two Hundred; this is the time you point to when we talk about Abbott overreaching himself, the point from which the fall began.
The national chairwoman of the Women's Electoral Lobby, Eva Cox, expressed scepticism about Mr Abbott's conversion to paid parental leave, but welcomed talk about a more generous scheme.
"The thing I would agree with him is that the government's plan is Mickey Mouse," Ms Cox said.
Imagine if Malcolm Turnbull or Brendan Nelson had tried to court Eva Cox; Liberals would have gone berserk. Plenty of oppositions have lost elections by identifying a Mickey Mouse government policy, and then producing a worse one (whereupon the Mickey Mouse policy is vindicated and held up as a model going forward, etc.).
Watch for a mad scramble over the top 3200 businesses, where everyone will want to be Business No. 3201 and nobody will want to be Business No. 3199: a quick scan of the top 150 companies on the stock market shows considerable volatility at the lower end of that limit, how much more so would it be further down. That definition probably does not include the local offices of multinational companies (e.g. News Ltd). It definitely includes Telstra, who are currently being shafted by Conroy but who can't do much to help his opponents lest they fail to win government, as looks likely: Stevie Boy hates it when people give aid and comfort to the Liberals. These calculations only come into play if Abbott has a real chance of winning.
That definition would probably include the companies that own Channels Nine and Seven. As if.
For all the Rudd-down-Abbott-up talk about polls, the fact is that Labor are on track to increase their majority. Faced with such a prospect, does anyone believe that any Liberal leader this side of Billy McMahon would go and get themselves lost, with a bunch of journalists in tow? Why would he barge into people's homes without asking? He comes back and he's still lost.