On my return from holiday at Malua Bay I watched Abbot deliver his speech to the Press Club and answer questions after. While one should not expect all existing problems to be “solved” in one speech, it was a disappointing attempt to improve the overall picture facing the government. True, there are references to what is needed in general terms: but these have already been said. In fact, about a third the way through his speech Abbott himself acknowledged that he was not there to defend the past but to explain the future. Yet one got the impression that stopping the boats and cutting the carbon and mining taxes might still be the major achievements at the next election.
This is where the speech failed. There is precious little on necessary changes or improvements in specifics and even backward steps about other specifics.
The bottom line is that, unless a much improved approach emerges from the current Cabinet discussions, any improvement in LNP polling is unlikely, as it is for Abbott himself. Because there is no obvious alternative leader it will take time for one to emerge. But if bad polling continues for the LNP one will emerge before long.
Following are my comments on specifics including some responses to questions after the speech:
- The promise to tackle the people and organisations that justify terrorism is welcome, but we wait for detail;
- The reiteration that there will be no carbon tax, and the reference to Shorten’s promise to have one, is also useful. But no indication was given that action will be taken to seriously question the dangerous global warming thesis;
- The ruling out of any change in existing workplace relations regulatory arrangements, including the Fair Work Commission, appeared to cover any recommendations from the Productivity Cn inquiry, implying that it will not be an issue at the next election ie under an Abbott government there would be no change to the employment destroying minimum wage determined by the FWC and, while Abbott correctly pointed out that employment grew faster in 2014 than 2013, unemployment has risen and employment growth has not kept pace with the growth in the working age population. Hence under Abbott to date we have higher unemployment and increased drop outs from the working age population;
- Although emphasising the need to reduce taxation and the budget deficit, the references to specific items suggests the announced abandonment of the parental leave scheme will be replaced by increased spending on child care and, while the small business jobs package will involve reduced taxation of such businesses, there are no new specifics on reduced spending and it appears lower taxation will increase the budget deficit and involve more government interventionism.
Some argue that the “success” of the anti-austerity movement in Europe now make it more difficult to run here a policy of lower spending. But some European countries and the US have improved their budgets, with the use of examples of why people in higher incomes should not normally receive government assistance, and with examples of absurd assistance in Europe, it should not be beyond the capacity of an LNP to successfully argue the case here. In fact, given the failure to do so with the current budget, there is now a need for the Coalition to do it;
- As Peter Reith points out in the article below, it is puzzling as to why Abbott needed to refer to situations in which possible changes are made to the GST;
It is a pity that Abbott’s promise to adopt a more collegial approach with colleagues (and not to announce knights himself) was not made in his address but in an answer to a journalist’s question. If he had engaged in more self-criticism, and indicated changes to his office and Cabinet arrangements, that would have produced a more favourable response. It may now be too late.