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Mr Abbott as class bad boy

By Don Aitkin - posted Friday, 3 March 2017

Johns says — and as a former Labor minister he should know what the left is up to — that “the pathway to a liberal society will be … to win constituencies without bribing them”. Yet, he says, “to achieve a … society … that is more liberal and governed by contract rather than by ideology will take a cultural revolution”.

In the long run, we do indeed need a conservative version of the left’s “long march through the institutions”. We do need to make it respectable again to be liberal on economic questions and conservative on social ones. In the short run, though, we have to win the next election. That means finding policy that’s philosophically acceptable, economically responsible and politically saleable.

What would that be? Well, Mr Abbott thinks that the first priority is to pound the renewable energy target. He says that he’s:


in favour of renewables, provided they’re economic and provided they don’t jeopardise security of supply; but, at the moment, we have a policy-driven disaster because you just can’t rely on renewable power.

I think there is an logical contradiction in that statement. And I think he means he is not in favour of renewable energy at all, unless there are no subsidies, but he doesn’t want to say so.

[I]t’s not Labor’s even more disastrous 50 per cent renewable target that’s caused the problem — it’s the existing renewable target which the government has no plans to change. Indeed, under the government’s plans, wind generation is supposed to double in the next three years at a capital cost to you the consumer of $10 billion. 

There’s a bit more about the present Government’s desire to build clean coal power stations through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. He doesn’t like that. There follows a section on the impossibility of good governing with the present Senate system. He suggests that there be a referendum on a proposal that two rejections by the Senate could mean the bill to goes to a joint sitting of both Houses without the need for a double dissolution. Take that proposal to the next election he says. Make the issue ‘government versus gridlock’. Maybe. I’m not persuaded, and would need much more than an idea spelled out so baldly to agree.

Then come a few specific proposals. Scale back immigration, which would help with the housing problem (it would, though it would lead to pressure on wages, I think). Freeze the renewable Energy Target. Avoid new spending and cut out frivolous spending. Stop funding the Human Right Commission.

He finishes like this: 


In or out of government, political parties need a purpose. Our politics can’t be just a contest of toxic egos or someone’s vanity project. What is worth striving for; how can we make a difference; and what must change if Australians individually and collectively are to come closer to our best selves? That’s the challenge that our side of politics needs to ponder. There’s much work to be done but the authors of this book, quite rightly, are demanding that we come to grips with it — fast.

I still don’t know what the issues for the ‘culture debate’ are. And I don’t know what conservatives will do in order to have a long march through the institutions, unless it is to wait until all those of the other persuasion finally die. But there is nothing in this address which is a vicious attack on anyone. Should he have agreed to launch the book at all? Why not? Should he have said other things? I don’t know what they would have been. But there is  some perception and sense in what he has put forward, at least from my perspective.

The Government could say, and have said, that most of what he has said is under consideration by the Government, and indeed it has itself pounded the renewable energy issue. What I do see, in this short-lived fracas, is the media picking on someone they love to hate. I’m not one of his great admirers, but he is intelligent and thoughtful. He ought to be allowed to say what he thinks without his automatically attracting the ‘naughty boy’ label by doing so.

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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, Moving On, was published in 2016.

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