Monday, 9 August 2010
Looking like a leader
Go back seven years ago, and he looked a very long shot indeed - tarred forever by his association with the Coalition's industrial relations policy and over-enthusiastic endorsement of electorally popular but practically useless programs such as Work for the Dole. He was then a man unable to delegate, even to the point of writing all of his own speeches.
Go back three years ago, and while he looked like a more than competent Health Minister, he looked pretty much dead in the water in terms of his leadership aspirations due to his chronic outbursts of foot in the mouth disease.
But since taking over the leadership in last December's coup, he has managed to look a convincing alternative, and given first Rudd and now Gillard a serious run for their money.
Ironically in view of the reasons for Rudd's demise, he has done it by reversing his position on many things that matter - industrial relations, climate change, no new taxes, a federal takeover of state hospitals and paid parental leave.
Still, a strong Opposition and a close election contest are good things for our democracy.
What's not so good for democracy has been the largely policy-free nature of the campaign up until now. That is starting to change though.
What the Liberals will not do
As the indomitable Annabel Crabb has pointed out, Abbott's campaign strategy hangs largely on not looking like mad bad Labor. Rather than the usual billions of campaign promises, his plan for Government as announced at yesterday's campaign launch involves:
"On Day One, for example - according to the press release - Prime Minister Abbott is planning to not introduce a mining tax.
And if he has enough energy left from doing that, he's going to not introduce a carbon tax.
Do things you're not going to do count as "Real Action"?
Not-doing things has a number of strategic and practical advantages over doing things.
Not doing something is often way faster than doing it.
Cheaper, too....Who could forget the awesome sight of John Howard with his wallet out in 2004, spending $11 billion in around 20 minutes?
This campaign launch didn't cost a bean; the closest thing to new policy it contained was the low-cost, high-moral-fibre promise to ratchet up mandatory prison terms for people smugglers..."
But actually the Liberals do now have some policies....
But actually the campaign launch did involve some almost actual policies, and I personally think they are seriously dangerous ones if they were actually implemented in any serious way.
1. A focus on Government debt reduction.
Australia actually has one of the lowest levels of Government debt in the Western world. Our big economic problem is not Government debt - but private debt, which remains at levels that make us extremely vulnerable. And the Coalition have consistently advocated policies (such as cutting interest rates, and thus encouraging more people to take out unsustainable loans - which in turn both pushes up demand and house prices and makes it difficult for State Governments to release sufficient land to keep up with demand lest they undermine housing values - instead of using fiscal policy) that will make this worse not better.
2. Yet another round of welfare reform.
Is there actually a serious problem that needs to be addressed? The evidence isn't clear. And endlessly tweaking the policy settings in this area just makes the job of delivering real outcomes harder for those actually working on the ground.
3. Cutting income tax and playing around with flat(er) rate income taxes
Highly regressive. Labor rightly in my view buried the Henry Report as the last gasp of the ideologically pure economic rationalists. Abbott plans to revive it....
But the real threat is the Greens
Still, in the end, one can have a legitimate and genuine debate about the relative merits or otherwise of the two main Parties and the importance of their respective leaders' influence and approaches.
But if you are truly concerned about the protection of life, the family and other core catholic values, far more worrying than the prospect of (another) atheist PM who may or may not get a chance ot act on her personal convictions (particularly given her current courting of the christian vote and commitments made to that end) are the indications of the upsurge in Green support in the Senate.
On the weekend Senator Bob Brown attacked Cardinal Pell as being anti-Christian and unrepresentative of catholics because of his stated opposition to gay marriage and similar polices. In the ACT (and elsewhere), the Greens are looking close to picking up another Senate seat...