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How bad is Abbott really?

By Syd Hickman - posted Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Hardly a week goes by without another item of wedge politics delivered by the Prime Minister. It's time to add them up and produce a big picture of the state we are in.

Housing affordability and declining levels of home ownership were raised as serious issues, particularly for young people trying to enter the market in our biggest cities. Sensible policy discussion was getting started on negative gearing, stamp duty and related legislation, even including mention of population policy, so Abbott shut it down with rejection of any change and attacks on the Opposition for ideas he misrepresented as a desire to make all home owners worse off by forcing down house prices.

The PM moved to make Australian citizens stateless at the whim of a Minister generally regarded as one of the most stupid and stubborn in the government. Fortunately some of his cabinet managed to head off the worst of this move but we now know from a leaked document he sees the entire process as another way to wedge the Opposition on a security issue. But the option will be established to enter the next election with an innocent person being declared stateless. When that happens the Opposition will either agree to go along, and then split on the morality of that position, or oppose it and be declared, "soft on terrorism''.


According to Abbott paying people smugglers is bad except when it is done by Australian spooks on orders from an unnamed Minister, possibly the PM himself given that he seemed to be the only one who immediately understood journalist's questions on these payments and avoided answering.

On the basis of cycling near one windmill he decides that wind power is bad, ugly and injurious to health while coal is good for all of us. Or could it be that, like Joe Hockey, his aversion to windmills is driven by the views of Allan Jones? Sensible policy debate on renewable energy is not part of the PM's plan.

He initiates a tax reform discussion and then when the Opposition starts to seriously explore some sensible options that could significantly improve the budget position the PM rules out any meaningful change to retirement income tax benefits and various other options. The point of all this is to simplistically portray the Opposition as in favour of higher taxes while he protects existing benefits.

It is generally understood in the media that he has agreed to buy submarines from the Japanese, for no apparent reason, and has set up a ridiculous process to justify that decision. The project has been run by the PM's Department rather than by Defence. Within the industry there is a rumour that we are to buy from Japan because the Americans ordered us to do that as part of a bigger deal between them and the Japanese. Whatever the truth may be, the public certainly have not been informed and normal process is not being followed. The PM can probably expect some favour at a critical moment, such as an election campaign, in return for doing what he is told rather than pursuing the national interest.

Australia's industrial relations legislation is still ridiculous but Abbott does not want a policy debate with sane outcomes. His sole aim for IR is to associate the Opposition with union thugs and thieves. It's an easy way to win some votes and donations but achieves little in the way of improvements for business or workers.

The theme running through all this is one of pure political game-playing. It appears that Abbott has no interest in governing in the national interest. His focus is entirely on winning the next election, and not by building support for policies or values, and certainly not by governing well. He appears to accept that his only hope is to create wedge issues that will allow him to attack the Opposition and hopefully force it to split.


He is exploring tax and national security as the two main policy areas where the government is seen to be strong. He wants to avoid education, health and other areas where the government is generally believed to be less well regarded than the Opposition.

Energy policy is in play because Jones and other conservative media players can be used to sway some generally apathetic sections of the electorate, portraying the Opposition as subject to The Greens and other wet forces that want to make life harder for ordinary people.

Gay marriage is an exception to this pattern in that it was a debate imposed on Abbott by an initially reluctant opposition that has become increasingly fearful of The Greens in seats such as Sydney.

Even in normal times Abbott would be a menace to the good governance of the nation. In this time of rapid transition of energy sources, moral values, national threats and global economic, environmental and humanitarian crises he is a complete disaster. Clearly there are members of his cabinet who agree with this assessment. They are regularly leaking information and documents that make clear the complete dominance of political ploys over policy wisdom, with the aim of forcing a change. Whoever is involved should be acclaimed a national hero. They are almost alone in trying to get rid of this national disgrace and potential long-term disaster.

From reading the recent body language of certain liberals it appears Abbott has decided to have a big go at the ALP and try to turn around his poll numbers. If he fails he will hand over to Scott Morrison, keeping Turnbull and Bishop at bay. Hence the promotion of Morrison as a nice guy. It's a tough ask but one they are prepared to try. Even that would be an improvement, particularly with Turnbull as Treasurer. The thought of facing the next stage of the global financial crisis with Abbott and Hockey running the show should terrify everyone.

The Liberal Party owes it to Australia to dump this bizarre leader and move into line with the views and expectations of the majority of Australians.

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About the Author

Syd Hickman has worked as a school teacher, soldier, Commonwealth and State public servant, on the staff of a Premier, as chief of Staff to a Federal Minister and leader of the Opposition, and has survived for more than a decade in the small business world.

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