The brochure has the word "plan" on the cover. Its purpose is for Liberals to say that Tony Abbott has a plan and that Julia Gillard doesn't. A plan contains a detailed proposal for a course of action: Real Solutions is no more a 'plan' than it is a 'sausage', or a 'grenade'. It's a statement of aspirations, not a plan, in the same way that buying a lottery ticket is not an investment strategy.
Unlike many public speakers Abbott didn't, of course, start with a "welcome to country" (an acknowledgement of Aboriginal custodianship of the particular part of the country the speaker is in): nobody would expect him to. He began with an acknowledgement that the country can be randomly terrifying and destructive and can take from you all that you have.
He started with a bit of disaster porn in an attempt to give his speech a gravity and a topicality that it turned out not to have. I had expected him to talk about his experiences with those communities, but he didn't have any. To turn up to a picfac and then go again doesn't make for a lot of human contact, nor any scope to shift a pre-defined agenda. Instead, he followed with a homily that is hard to hear, coming from him:
Here in Canberra, we must never forget that our task is to serve the Australian people.It's the voters who decide what service they want and who best is able to provide it. Why anyone would decide, as Abbott and Pyne have, that hooting like apes through Question Time constitutes service to the Australian people was not made clear by Abbott. So, what do voters want?
The political battles we have to fight are but a means to that end.
It’s clear to us what you, our fellow Australians, want:That focus-group excreta is the policy core of the speech - so many begged questions, a journalist could spend every day between now and September exploring them. You want more job security, but are you going to get it under an Abbott government? Does the mining tax depress jobs and investment? Do you think any journalist asked any questions about those matters at all?
Our plans for a better Australia are our response to you.
- you want less pressure on your cost of living;
- you want more job security;
- you want our borders under control;
- you want stability and certainty returned to decision-making; and
- you want leaders you can trust.
The carbon tax will be gone – so power prices will fall.
The mining tax will be gone – so investment and jobs will increase.
The boats will be stopped – because what’s been done before can be done again.
And the budget will be back in the black – so government has the resources to deliver the services that are really needed.
Our vision for Australia is about you.
The begged questions are also present in the brochure. Just because the budget is in deficit during a recession, it does not mean that it is "out of control". You'd have to write off John Howard's entire time as Treasurer if you believed that.
As Australians, each of you has a right to elected leaders who are straight with you and who don’t waste your money ... So my pledge to you is that I won’t say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards because fibbing your way into office is what’s brought our public life into disrepute.You would probably get thrown out of the National Press Club for laughing at that. For all its self-importance as an institution, the National Press Club would be poorer for such a policy; but then it allows Steve Lewis to walk in through the front door and chair its big events, so obviously this is the kind of club where you wouldn't want to be a member.
The Coalition understands that every dollar that government spends is a dollar taken from you in taxes today or two dollars taken from our children in a few years’ time when the debt has to be repaid.This is as clear an example as you can get that the Coalition is living down to Oscar Wilde's definition of a cynic: who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. If you can spend a dollar today that yields you and your family five dollars down the track, you'd spend the money - but Abbott won't. That much-needed infrastructure and the shimmering promise of education he talks about is the much-needed infrastructure Howard didn't build.
The defeat of the Howard government showed that people don't necessarily want the buck back or are grateful to those who do so. On day one of the 2007 election campaign the Coalition promised $34b worth of tax cuts, but (especially when you consider their claim that they left Labor a $20b budget surplus) so what?
The Coalition’s last eleven budgets delivered ten surpluses.Why does he get away with refusing to link Australia's economic position to that of the global economy? Why hasn't the smart-alec Catch-22 of the budgetary position (surplus = sucking money out of the economy and driving up unemployment, deficit = broken promise and uncertainty) been quashed? There are two basic reasons why the Australian media give Abbott such an easy ride on big issues and tough questions, both of which benefit the Coalition.
This year’s deficit will be Labor’s eleventh in a row.
The first is that the Murdoch media openly, unabashedly back the Coalition. Their presence in the Australian media and the virulence of their fervour is such that it skews any question of balance. Strangely, it is proud of its EXCLUSIVEs but occasionally it will upbraid other media outlets for not taking its EXCLUSIVEs as seriously as they do - and worse, the other outlets quail before this and run warmed-over imitations of Murdoch pieces.
Second, the non-Murdoch outlets want a contest, even though there is no contest of ideas. The government has policies and the opposition has modifications. Same asylum-seeker policy, but TPVs. Same defence policy, but - um, any change would involve new money, so let's leave that. The non-Murdoch media did this with last year's US election, framing it as a close contest when in fact President Obama won resoundingly.
Regardless of the agendas of their proprietors, for press gallery journos, it's personal. Gillard is right to disdain the press gallery given that her speech was given over to her glasses and the election date, and the fact that the press gallery like Abbott and they're going to give him an easy ride and there's nothing you can do about it.
It was about this point that Abbott began reading his speech in the same tone that one uses when reading to children, not the way one talks to adults about the problems and opportunity facing the nation. The audience before him were journalists and Coalition MPs, but to the unseen audience far beyond it looked like he was patronising us.
Let’s be clear.After all the evidence that this scare campaign hasn't worked, he is still plugging away at it. If you were an experienced journalist you would wonder if this obtuse quality would have any bearing on the sort of Prime Minister he'd be, but if you're a press gallery dill you'd just accept that is Tony being Tony.
The coming election will be a referendum on the carbon tax.
Here at the Press Club 12 months ago, I outlined the Coalition’s plan for a stronger and more prosperous economy, and a safe and secure Australia.No you didn't. There is a reason why that blogpost is the second-most viewed post on this blog, and that is because no journalist examined that speech as closely as I did.
So far, the Coalition has made literally dozens of big policy commitments:No it hasn't. It's done a bit of trimming. It doesn't really have a fundamental problem with the Gillard government but it wants to look like it's offering a real alternative, so it offers desultory efforts like these:
We’ll abolish the carbon tax – because it’s the quickest way to reduce power prices.After years of underinvestment in power generation, and misinvestment in the wrong technologies, "quickest" is not what we're after here.
We’ll abolish the mining tax – because it’s the quickest way to boost investment and jobs.Think of all the investment and jobs that could be created if all the $0 that has been paid in mining tax was redirected. They think we're mugs, don't they.
And we’ll cut red tape costs by at least $1 billion a year – to give small business a much-needed break.No you won't.
By restoring the jobs growth of the Howard government, there’ll be two million more jobs over a decade.To achieve that, we'd need a global economy to be overheating as it very much isn't now. I guess you're just not made for these times.
There’ll be border protection policies that have been proven to stop the boats.Got those already, and they are not proving much at all.
There’ll be a swift start on Melbourne’s East-West link, on Sydney’s WestConnex and on Brisbane’s Gateway motorway upgrade.No there won't.
And the Pacific Highway will finally be duplicated well within this decade.
We’ll reduce emissions by planting more trees ...... which will burn down or get washed away by increasing extreme weather events. Not good enough.
There’ll be a one-stop-shop for faster environmental approvals.No, there'll be an eight-stop-shop because you're going to shunt environmental assessments back to the states and territories, remember?
There’ll be the same penalties for union officials and company officers who commit the same offence.What, none? When David Coe died the death of a reckless fool last month at a high-end US ski resort, the MSM business pages were full of clowns recounting what a great guy he was. Mind you, Abbott has nothing but good to say about Kathy Jackson.
There’ll be schools and hospitals run by community leaders, not by distant bureaucrats, so they’re more responsive to the parents and patients they serve.This is not a recipe for improving schools or fundamentally changing in response to needs of the 21st century. Community leaders in areas where schools underperform are looking for guidance, and you're admitting that guidance won't be forthcoming. Hospital boards add nothing to governance and Abbott will stack them with busybodies seeking to frustrate abortions and euthanasia by measures beyond the law.
The brochure claims that bureaucrats are "unaccountable", which demonstrates such a lack of understanding of how government works that it may as well have been written by one of those fringe parties that never comes close to getting any of its members up. You can imagine the "school boards" Abbott would set up, teaching creationism and wasting government-funded medical research by claiming Gardasil is a poison.
The brochure claims:
We will establish a bi-partisan parliamentary committee jointly chaired by both sides of the Parliament, with Members and Senators with a strong personal interest in making the NDIS happen.Bullshit. This will be political trench warfare, blocking and obfuscating with no regard for disabled people and their carers, a gravy-train for NGOs that have little involvement with disabled people currently and a tough time for smaller organisations strong enough in expertise to call the Coalition out.
We will restore transparency, certainty and confidence to the process by which medicines are listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) – ensuring medicines are listed on the basis of advice from the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, not on the whim ofRemember Abbott on RU486? I do. That's why this is bullshit.
We will support our veterans by properly indexing the Defence Force Retirement Benefits and Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefit military superannuation pensions and we will deliver this in our first Budget.That's all very well if you assume that veterans are mainly elderly people past retirement age, as was the case under Howard and previous governments. Increased military commitments over the past decade meant that there are more veterans - including those with longterm care needs - who are of working age. This means a whole new way of thinking about veterans' affairs, including greater expenditure. No sign of that kind of thinking here - the reference to veterans was stuck under "Older Australians".
There’ll be a new Colombo Plan that’s a two way street between Australia and our region sending our best and brightest to study in the region and bringing their best here.Stop referring to it as 'Colombo Plan'. This will require more and better diplomacy than the Coalition has shown themselves to be capable of. Reminds me of a Politically Homeless proposal of long ago, actually.
There’ll be a comprehensive review of childcare so it’s more responsive to the 24/7 needs of today’s working families.That's it? You're going to hit the ground reviewing? Is Margie Abbott the only Liberal with any expertise in this area?
There will be no unexpected changes that are detrimental to people’s superannuation.Unexpected by whom? You're already cutting assistance to low-income earners.
There will be no further reductions in defence spending – that’s already fallen to the lowest level, as a percentage of GDP, since 1938.Where's the money coming from? More importantly - where's it going to (in terms of new defence initiatives) and where's the bloat?
And we will protect spending on medical research where Australia’s talented scientists give us such a comparative advantage.Unless it's research into reproduction or stem-cells, of course. Besides, don't we want a government that will increase spending on medical research? Maybe it's just me.
Between now and polling day, we will be constantly developing our policy commitments so that you know exactly what will happen should the government change.That's the point at which any self-respecting journalist should have gotten up and left. The same old same-old.
Our fibre-to-the-node plan will deliver superfast broadband for a fraction of the price and in a fraction of the time required to deliver fibre to the front door.Turnbull's scrappy policy has been hammered by the tech press to the point where he is no longer able to defend it; Abbott will have Buckley's. ICT is one area (health is another) where people defer to experts; the Coalition has learned nothing from their debacle at the last election.
And Malcolm Turnbull is the right person to give Australians a 21st Century network because he is one of Australia’s internet pioneers.
And when this government claims that it’s attacking “middle class welfare”, it’s just attacking the middle class – because the family tax benefit and the private health insurance rebate are tax justice for families, not handouts.Really? Surely "tax justice" means cutting expenditure overall and lowering taxes, rather than handouts - right Joe? This split between paternalism and small government is a fundamental one within the Liberals and one would hope it had been better worked out by now. Once you start loading policies on top of it the cracks will open up, and no amount of stunt-work can save it.
Along the way, though, I’ve been a concrete plant manager as well as a Rhodes Scholar; a footy coach as well as a journalist; a nipper parent as well as a political adviser.This guy has been a dilettante. As soon as things have gotten hard, he's flitted away and left problems for others to clean up.
I cherish my time on patrol with the Queenscliff surf club and with the local brigade – not just for the community service – but because working with people without a political agenda helps to keep politicians grounded in the real world.This man does nothing to foster voluntary community organisations. This man has spent his career sneering at "do-gooders", the very people who hold those organisations - indeed, the very country - together. If experience as a journalist means anything, it should mean calling Abbott out on this crap. Abbott regards "people without a political agenda" as mugs, and treats them accordingly.
It’s why I’ve tried to be useful in remote communities as a teacher’s aide and builder’s assistant rather than just a glorified tourist from Canberra.So hammering in some nails for the camera makes you a
And that's what we're meant to buy here: the Tony Abbott Action Figure, with accessories sold separately. Sluggos Tony, Firey Tony (about whom, more later), Handyman Tony, Bicycle Tony; a man trying to match it not with Julia Gillard, but with Barbie. No wonder it was such an insubstantial speech, from such an insubstantial man.
I’m ready for the election.Oh no you're not.
The Coalition is ready.
Abbott is the most vain Liberal leader since Andrew Peacock, further demonstrated by his plastic face at this appearance. This does not reinforce an image of youthful vigour; it reinforces the image of a man who will not grow up, and who will block out reality with quick fixes rather than deal responsibly with what is really happening.
Good on Lenore Taylor and Laura Tingle for asking Abbott about Ashby-Slipper. Michelle Grattan's effort is the sort of thing that homeless people mutter as they push shopping trolleys around; junior journalists with real questions to ask Abbott must have chafed at Grattan's seniority without anything to learn from it.
The most telling moment was where he promised "hand on heart" that no member of the Coalition was involved in a conspiracy to use Ashby as a catspaw against Slipper - and then he placed his hand somewhere near his pancreas. From this we can conclude his promise is hollow - and that a man who has supposedly led a full life, and who aspires to high office, is not in touch with his own heart.
The arrest of Craig Thomson saw political partisans shelter behind either of two conspiracies:
- the PM knew Thomson's arrest was imminent, so she called the election date early to lock the ALP in behind her and draw out Abbott on policy detail; or
- the NSW government was in cahoots with Abbott to schedule Thomson's arrest so that Abbott looked like he has a real policy win.
Abbott is wildly praised by the press gallery for his speechcraft, but up and down the country there are high school prefects who are far more confident and capable speakers. He wants the press gallery to think he's a nice guy, which is how they regarded Kim Beazley. He really has put all his eggs into the MSM basket, while the Prime Minister hasn't. Maybe there's nothing we can do about it and the press gallery just like him and so there; we've just got to eat