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Abbott a threat both to fairness and prosperity

By Tristan Ewins - posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010


As the 2010 Australian Federal election nears, the future of our nation hangs in the balance. A few months back many would have thought the prospect of a Tony Abbott-led Coalition government unlikely at best. Labor was riding high in the polls: credited with navigating our way from the dangerous shoals of recession. And the government had done this with an eye to social justice, not only reforming pensions, but also buoying consumer confidence with direct payments to those on welfare and low incomes.

As opposed to the conservatives, Labor looked to the future; with a promise to build the National Broadband Network, laying the foundations for the future knowledge economy. By comparison, in this regard the conservatives have been short-sighted and opportunistic.

Further, the Abbott ascension to Opposition leadership initially underscored divisions among the conservative parties, and their lack of substance and credibility on climate change.

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But since then - and for some months - it has been mainly downhill for Labor.

There were issues that had weakened the government for some time, but Labor's re-election chances remained strong.

The home insulation and school infrastructure programs are now widely believed to have been poorly managed. In reality, though, the school infrastructure program added to the stimulus when it was needed most; and for many schools the product of the expenditure has been of real value: its benefit long-lasting. Genuine shortcomings in regulatory oversight were partly the fault of public servants who should have advised the government, but the government could not avoid responsibility for flaws in policy implementation.

As a consequence, the conservatives have been able to make up ground on the theme of “competency” outside any values context.

More recent developments, however, have threatened the survival of the Federal Labor government.

The mining industry fear campaign on resource rent taxation saturated the media, marking a turning point for Labor with the government put decisively on the defensive. Suddenly Rudd’s leadership was seen as a liability, with a “fresh start” perceived as the only way to stem the haemorrhaging of support for the government.

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With Julia Gillard now catapulted into the office of Prime Minister, Federal Labor’s support in the polls appeared to firm. Gillard thus resolved to take advantage, and seek for herself a mandate, calling an election for August 21.

But since then Gillard’s proposal for a “Citizens’ Assembly” to work for consensus on climate change has been interpreted as indecision. Further, Abbott has whipped up groundless fear over debt (Australia’s government debt is one of the lowest in the world), and has outflanked Labor in trumping the government with commitments to aged care and mental health funding.

Finally, sensational leaks from within government have overshadowed policy debate, and for many the removal of Rudd has left a bitter aftertaste.

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About the Author

Tristan Ewins has a PhD and is a freelance writer, qualified teacher and social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a long-time member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He blogs at Left Focus, ALP Socialist Left Forum and the Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy.
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