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Policy bombshell has backfired

By Graham Young - posted Friday, 20 August 2010


When Tony Abbott announced his parental leave policy it took his colleagues by surprise. It shouldn't have.

While he bypassed shadow cabinet to make the decision, he had canvassed it in Battlelines, the biography-cum-leader's job application he had written after the fall of the Howard government.

When Abbott took on the Liberal leadership he knew he was too much of a "known known" and that many Australians had taken a preconceived set against him as a chauvinistic, Catholic troglodyte.

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If he was going to be prime minister of Australia he needed an issue to shatter that preconception by positioning himself as both modern and appealing to Australian women.

And a small-target policy wouldn't work: it had to be large-target.

Parental leave was the issue that was going to show he had moved with the times and was going to appeal to as broad a cross-section of women as possible, right up into the professional ranks, where much of the soft-Left and Greens vote hides.

Our polling says that not only has this strategy failed, it has rebounded on Abbott.

He's taken Labor on in welfare, a field in which it is seen as being strong, left it unscathed, and in the process damaged himself on the economy, an area in which the Liberals have credibility.

When we asked our 2,151 respondents earlier this week to choose between the government's parental leave scheme and the opposition's, most went for the government's.

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Women were more likely to choose the government's scheme than men, particularly women with children, although this tendency was less marked with younger women who were the primary target of Abbott's plan.

The government's scheme starts in January next year and supports a family for 18 weeks at $544 a week. The opposition's starts in July 2012 and will pay at the mother's salary capped to $75,000.

It seems counterintuitive that voters would spurn a more generous scheme, but there are good reasons for it.

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First published in The Australian on August 19, 2010.



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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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