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Tony Abbott, job is done, time to go

February 6, 2015

6 February 2015

Let’s be realistic, Tony Abbott has never been popular. His approval ratings were never favourable, whether that be in opposition or as newly elected Prime Minister. He was only ever elected because the former Labor government under Julia Gillard was so wretched, treacherous and despised. Gillard was so bad that even a mole on your backside would have been more popular, and probably could have been elected too. When elected, Abbott had two key mandates: repeal the duplicitous and useless carbon tax; and, stop the exploitation of Australia’s refugee program by people smugglers.

The carbon tax was the betrayal of a nation, symbolising the ultimate break in trust. Gillard won the election on the promise of not imposing one. Despite Labor losing the election and needing Greens and Independents to form a minority government, she decided abuse the situation and break her promise. It was a massive insult to the electorate. She would then lie about the lie, and never stopped lying. The tax itself was idiotic, funnelling much of the money back as compensation for the higher electricity prices that it caused and dubiously “reducing emissions” mostly by buying carbon credits from overseas. Australia’s emissions actually still rose. It had no credibility as “acting” on climate change, especially when also considering Australia’s tiny global emissions footprint. As much as she spun her sanctimonious propaganda about its false virtues, the public tuned out further and further.

There were only a handful of illegal arrivals in detention centres when Labor took office in 2007. Almost immediately that the borders were weakened on the premise of being “humanitarian”, the smugglers resumed their business, leading to a catastrophic 50,000 illegal arrivals, over-flowing detention centres, 1200 drownings at sea and over $12b wasted. Even worse than that, the legitimate refugees waiting in camps, some for decades, had their wait extended because their spots were taken by a wealthy 1% of “economic migrants” that could afford to pay a smuggler $10,000 for the trip. Not only was the policy a disaster, many in Labor and the Greens actually encouraged these cheats, gloating about any boat reaching Australian territory or land. As for the drownings, they were collateral damage in the name of being kind. Few will forget the despicable response by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young of “tragedies happen, accidents happen” to the Christmas Island wreck.

Once the Abbott government axed the carbon tax and regained control of Australia’s refugee program, Abbott had exhausted his mandate. They were simple acts too, largely being administrative, whereas the government has been inept in the creative side of reforms and policy making, notably the spurious notion of “repairing the budget”. It never resonated strongly with the electorate, being subsumed in the haze of the carbon tax and the boats and the general shambles of the Labor government and the desperate will to kick them out. While there was an awareness of the debt, the public were unprepared to do anything about it, much less sacrifice anything personally. This was the start of Abbott’s downfall.

Facts are that one side of politics needs to be meaner when it comes to entitlements and the budget. That’s typically the right-leaning party and, in Australia, that’s the Liberal Party. The trick is to be honest about the agenda and not be defensive. Because of a hostile senate, Abbott faced a physical opposition that caused his government to be defensive in policy too. In contrast to Gillard, her party and the Greens controlled the senate, meaning the opposition she faced was only ever rhetorical, and her agenda could always sail through.

When the Abbott government proposed the $7 GP co-payment (GPCP) for a visit to the local doctor, the response was hostile. Knowing this, they decided in the budget to impose a small debt tax on the wealthy to make the GPCP seem fairer and direct revenue from the GPCP to a new $20b medical research fund. Absurd! If you’re trying to make savings, surely anything from the GPCP goes directly back into the health system, not on speculation that a research fund will deliver savings in decades time. Most Australians were aghast at suddenly needing to pay anything for their “free” health care. If there was a burden to bear, surely the rich should be hit more, like cutting private insurance rebates. The problem is that no one explained that taxing all the rich people even more would make little difference because there’s not enough of them around.

Even the reason for the GPCP – to provide a “price signal” for going to the doctor – was daft. While health costs are soaring, there’s no sense of Medicare imploding, so to impose a cost on the poorest, even if quite small, made no sense. The better approach would have been about “cost containment”, and impose it on the doctors via a cap on the Medicare rebate and bulk billing. That’s the true area being roted, especially as doctors bulk-bill for consultations lasting just a few minutes. With the minimum consultation time accepted as being 10 minutes, that should be a maximum of 6 bulk-bills per hour taken. If the doctor is squeezing more patients through, then surely that’s the point they do it free rather than hit the tax-payer for even more.

With the GPCP being blocked by the senate, what does Tony Abbott do? Reduce it to $5. When that fails, he unilaterally decides to halve the Medicare rebate if a consultation lasts less than 10 minutes. Within days, he backs down from that. It’s now almost a year since GPCP was first mooted and the issue won’t go away. Instead of banging their heads against a brick wall, the government – once they dealt with the carbon tax and border security – should have focused only on Labor and opposition leader, Bill Shorten, in senate negotiations, rather than allow them sit back and watch the trainwreck. In the name of bipartisanship, you hold them accountable, and then blame their objectionist agenda if there is lack of progress with your proposals.

Abbott’s other problem are broken promises – especially after he promised a government of no surprises or excuses. While it’s doubtful any swing voter really cares that the national broadcaster, the ABC, must find 1% of savings each year for the next 5 years despite a “no cuts to the ABC” promise, it was enough for opponents to go bonkers, especially on the back of an increase in the retirement age for the pension. Facts are that neither even remotely compare to the carbon tax lie that destroyed the Gillard government. Equivalent lies would be to sell the ABC and cut existing pensions. The election promise of “no changes to the pension” always related to existing and imminent retirees. Still, with other surprises like the return of indexing on petrol excise that would only raise a piddly 1c per litre, it was enough for Labor to run rampant, using “lie” in every second sentence to attack the government. Perception built quickly of a dishonest government solely interested in attacking the poor. In a country that forces people to vote, that perception easily becomes reality for the great unwashed hordes deciding Australia’s future governments.

Then there’s the gaffs. The first notable one was Abbott stealing from Gillard’s self-victimising playbook by claiming sexism and misogyny is the reason for the criticism against his chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Then came the most self-destructive and galling gaff of them all: to award Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, a knighthood! There’s probably never been such a universal condemnation of a Prime Minister’s single decision in the history of the nation. Even accepting Abbott is a monarchist (whatever floats your boat), part of his justification for his decision to restore knights and dames was that Australians would be honoured. So why the hell would you award some twit from overseas? Worse, it had a tangible outcome, almost certainly causing the Liberals to lose government in the cliffhanger Queensland state election several days after.

You know a leader is failing when ministers come out saying they are in full support of the PM and they’ve no intention to call for a leadership spill. You also know that there’s a case of self-denial when themes resurface like “it’s the sales pitch, not the policy” and “it’s not a popularity contest” that we saw under the failed Labor government. No, it is the policy and, at election time, it is a popularity contest. Abbott’s gone a step further by saying that change of leaders won’t work, that to look at Labor. Wrong. Those changes did work. Gilliard won enough seats in 2010 to help her party stay on and Kevin Rudd in 2013 saved Labor from oblivion when the hapless Gillard was finally dumped. The issue with Labor is they waited too long to dump Gillard, preferring to blame Rudd for “destabilising”. That was always nonsense because if Gillard was not such a rubbish leader, Rudd would not have even had the power to destabilise Fat Albert on a pogo stick. Same situation now. Faced with a dud leader, the message to the Liberals is clear: strike early and strike hard.

There’s no future for Tony Abbott. Even he seems to be signalling that by saying he wants to avoid “the chaos of the Labor years”. Changing leaders now will actually avoid that. His approval ratings are approaching Gillard at her worst and his party’s primary vote is on a similar trajectory. On the News website, a poll showed only 15% would vote for Abbott if an election were held the next day. Numbers like that mean there’s no hope of recovery. His real problem is the public already made up their mind before he was even elected, and now he’s just confirmed those doubts. If he recovers, to which level is that? His peak approval rating was only ever a net negative! He should go out proud with the achievement of bringing down the worst PM and government ever, that of Julia Gillard and her villainous Labor crew, after holding them accountable for their horrendous, arrogant and undemocratic policies. Voters will long appreciate that, and now – after 8 years and 3 nincompoops in the Lodge – want someone that can actually lead. Abbott can’t. He’s been useless beyond that basic mandate of the 2013 election. Tony Abbott, job is done, time to go.

The Contenders

Scott Morrison seems the most capable. His main problem is his language presents as quite nasty, especially when it comes to border security. Notice my terminology about exploitation of our refugee program rather than the harsh “stop the boats”? Essentially, the issue is about protecting our refugee intake for genuine ones. Morrison’s language is typical of new governments, that they get power mad. Who can forget Attorney General George Brandis’s “people do have a right to be bigots, you know” when advocating the restrictions on freedom of speech be loosened? All that the great masses will hear is “bigots” then instantly associate the policy is about creating racists. Morrison’s profile is also quite low.

While Julie Bishop has the popularity (which could be more about her not being Tony Abbott than anything else), she can have a hard edge to her and, of course, has that famous death stare. She can become defensive when questioned hard, often smirking before responding. Given all the ridiculous accusations about misogyny with Julia Gillard, Bishop would be a fascinating observation to see how long those accusers become rampant misogynists themselves when Bishop is inevitably criticised. She might get a week of immunity.

Malcolm Turnbull is the darling of the left, thanks to him leaning towards the hysterical edge when talking about global warming. Ironically, that could help. With Labor certain to go to the next election with an emissions tax via an Emissions Trading Scheme, Turnbull has long favoured this “solution”. Except, rather than rushing head long taxing Australians like Labor did (and possibly will do) while most of the world does nothing, Turnbull could place his policy at a zero tax rate, only for it to be implemented when the world finally agrees on binding targets and a world price is set. This was actually John Howard’s policy for 2007.

Curiously, Turnbull just reiterated his support for the current Liberal policy of Direct Action. Whether that’s to clear the “global warming elephant” from the room come a spill, or just accepting it as satisfactory (both parties, regardless of policy, have the same target of a 5% reduction on 2000 levels by 2020 and DA actually does drop Australia’s emissions) we wait. Turnbull flopped as opposition leader because he was easily flustered by scrutiny and dithering in his responses. He was also attacked from the left for being wealthy and out of touch. Of course they won’t vote for him come election time, so the question – like Bishop – is the amount of immunity he gets before the vicious attacks start. Probably a week as well.

 

Disclosure: I supported Gillard dumping Rudd, voted for Gillard in 2010, voted against her party in 2013, and undecided for 2016. If an election were held tomorrow, I’d give them all a zero.

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