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Can Tony Turn it Around?

imageWhat does it mean to ask whether Tony Abbott can turn it around? Here’s my amateur take on it.

There are two ways of looking at ‘turning it around’. Is it Abbott? Or is it the LNP government’s policies?

The Abbott factor itself has two sides.  One is whether Tony Abbott can be seen to operate more effectively as the leader of his party. Can he placate his back bench by being more consultative etc? Well, he can consult till the cows come home. And possibly sack his chief of staff. But the real issue for the back bench isn’t whether they like Tony Abbott; it’s whether they can keep their seats come next election if he is still leader. This is the ‘Tony is out of touch’ argument. But is the backbench any less out of touch? Given the policies they support, (see below) it doesn’t seem so.

The other ‘Abbott factor’ is whether he can regain the trust of the electorate, which, with an approval rating of only 24%, he has clearly lost. As John Hewson says, Abbott will never be popular with voters. This means he has to show that he is a competent leader.  He’s said he believes that the electorate wants more explanation of his government’s policies, what problems he’s trying to solve, and why his solutions are the right ones. How he will do that we’ll have to wait and see. Better spin? More support from the Murdoch press? This is the ‘we need a better sales job’ argument.

But what if ‘turning it around’ means changes in policy? What if the electorate don’t like what’s being sold, however much Abbott listens to his backbench or however palatably LNP policies are wrapped?

What changes could he make? Clearly he’s not going to undo anything he’s already done, for example on the really important issue of carbon emissions reduction. An LNP government will never put a price on carbon and Direct Action is an underfunded lemon so there won’t be an effective emission reduction policy. This would be the case whoever was leader; Turnbull has repudiated an ETS in favour of Direct Action, and he’d never get to be leader if he did support an ETS. It’s not clear how much the electorate cares about this, but failure on climate change isn’t going to win the LNP any votes.

It seems unlikely that Abbott will back away from deregulating university fees. It may not get through the Senate, or may be watered down there. If implemented in any form, this policy is likely to be unpopular with just the sort of middle class voters he needs to vote for the LNP.

On the other hand, it seems possible that the Medicare co-payment will be shelved. This would be popular, and would get the doctors off his back. But you can bet Hockey will cut health spending somewhere else to make up. And Liberal Treasurers love their price signals (except on carbon emissions), so maybe a co-payment will be promised for a second Liberal term – though backbenchers wouldn’t be happy about the electoral implications of that.

And here’s where it starts to go pear shaped. They’ve cut things that bring in revenue, like the carbon tax. They are having to ease up on spending cuts because they are so unpopular. So where does the money come from?

Abbott said in his Press Club address just last week that the problem was ‘government spending’. But he also said : ‘Because we have done much of the hard work already, we won’t need to protect the Commonwealth budget at the expense of the household budget’. He’s also suggested the next budget could contain tax cuts. There’s so much there that’s contradictory I almost don’t know where to start.

Hardly any ‘hard work ‘ has been done; much of the government’s cost cutting agenda – $28 billion of it – hasn’t yet got through the Senate and may not do so. And even if it does, there will still be deficits for the foreseeable future. This is in a context where the Liberals have identified good economic management with having a budget surplus.

And the ‘hard work’ they have done isn’t popular. Cuts to welfare and pensions are disliked, being widely seen as unfair to the poor and disadvantaged (as well as being broken promises). But in the context of a budget deficit, Abbott certainly won’t reverse them. Nor will he reverse cuts to health and education, or to the ABC and SBS. The budget is one of the main reasons for the LNP’s unpopularity; even in the unlikely event that there are no further cuts to services, what’s already been done will still rankle with the electorate. And if government spending still has to be cut further … Backbenchers may find electors don’t like it – but it’s their policy.

If ‘the household budget’ is not to be targeted, what is? Business? The wealthy? But in a Liberal world, it is rich people who create jobs and needs tax cuts. Even the suggestion that Abbott will keep the company tax hike intended to fund the defunct Paid Parental Leave scheme is outraging business. Does anyone really think he – or any other Liberal – will tax the rich?

Running a ’small government’ pro-surplus agenda is inherently deflationary at a time of weak economic grow – ie what we have now. Abbott might talk about 2015 being a year of ‘jobs’, but where does he think they are going to come from? Even Kate Carnell from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, speaking on the ABC about the Liberal spill, admits that the economy is sluggish. (She still wants a budget surplus, though.) Private enterprise isn’t generating enough jobs to stop unemployment rising. This is a great time to cut government spending further. What will be the result? More unemployment. How popular will this be in all those Liberal electorates?

Trying to reduce penalty rates and the minimum wage on the grounds that they are to blame for unemployment – apart from being economic nonsense – is likely to spark a popular campaign against the government. I don’t think this is a vote winner.

In other words, it seems to me that the Australian economy needs stimulus, greater than can be delivered through cuts to the cash rate – which can’t go that much lower anyway. Stimulus is the opposite of the Liberal policy of cutting spending. Their only answer is tax cuts to the rich, since they believe that wealth trickles down. It doesn’t. And just at the moment, significant numbers of the electorate can see it doesn’t; what is needed is increased government spending.

So which is it? The Abbott factor or the LNP policy factor? It’s a bit of both, and so far as turning it around is concerned, I don’t think either will work. While LNP policies are unpopular, and the opinion polls are bad, Abbott will be unpopular in the party room, however much he sucks up to them. The Liberals can’t afford to reveal to the electorate their unpopular neo-Liberal agenda of cutting spending and hence services, so their policies will continue to be contradictory. This makes it hard for Abbott to appear to the electorate as an effective leader. It also makes it hard for the party to successfully sell a coherent narrative. And the deflationary policies they’ve tied themselves to – including emphasis on a surplus as the badge of good economic management – weaken the economy and alienate voters. (Turnbull as Prime Minister wouldn’t alter this dilemma; he can smile more nicely than Abbott, but he’s wedded to the same economic world view.)

This doesn’t of course mean that they won’t find ways of lying or bribing their way back to power at the next election; look what they and their cheer leaders in the mainstream media managed last time. Asylum seekers and terror come to mind. And maybe Labor will find ways of stuffing it up. But the LNP won’t hang onto power on the back of sound and equitable economic policy. There are sensible political and economic paths out of this quagmire, but the Liberals will never find them.

PS And if you don’t believe me about the quagmire, read Ian Verrender’s analysis of the situation here.

24 comments

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  1. TurnLeft2016

    I have a friend who is a big believer in a tactic he calls f…f… er… “targeting the sheep”, back in the day when the authorities couldnt get Napoleon, they executed his generals, they went after Napoleons “sheep”, the idea was to get the generals so scared they would be executed that they would abandon support of Napoleon… this is what the backbenchers are worried about, that Abbott will become so toxic that they are at risk of losing their own seat on the gravy train – as mentioned at the top of this post, and if someone was tactically astute enough, they would figure out the 15 or so most marginal Liberal / Liberal National seats and start figuring out their weaknesses.

  2. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    Sadly I think it is past time for Shorten to treat Abbott like Abbott treated Gillard.

  3. Roswell

    In a word, no.

  4. Kerri

    You are right Kay Rollison. They have no credible, workable economic plan! They still believe in peeing on the poor! They still believe the poor should be ignorant and stupid enough to worship them and swallow their venom with a smile! Hipefully this whole sorry Abbott episode will result in the average Aussie waking up from their torpor and paying attention to politics! We have been way too easygoing for way too long!

  5. John Fraser

    <

    Notice how Abbott gets 6 months probation from his arch conservative "team".

    While at the same time his extreme right religious conservatives loathes probation for offenders and want those same offenders locked up forever, executed or deported.

  6. ' george hanson '

    @turnleft2016 …..in ten words or less ……what are you talking about ! Sorry , a bit out there !You may be tertiary qualified … but many readers are struggling with your concept . Me included . Please be aware that many people are moving to these pages for information …..please , don’t chase them away ! Little steps , mate , little steps .

  7. paul walter

    I don’t know if he can turn it around..he has been pushing it up-hill too hard.

  8. mark delmege

    george Obama is trying the same thing with Putin – targeting his mates with sanctions in the belief (mistaken in this case I suspect) that they will usurp him. The best reason I can see that WA libs had a go at our dear leader is that they face one term in office and I think you need two to qualify for the gravy train pension. And lets face it that’s about all they will get out of being in a government party. As for Abbott he can twist and turn or drift backwards and forwards but sooner or later you know what awaits him – the longer it takes the better for Labor…if thats your thing.

  9. Annie B

    ” Can Tony Turn It Around ” ???

    I soooo doubt that. – – – Old, worn out adage .. ” Leopards don’t change their spots “.

    He might have a tilt at it – for a little while, but the true personality will always surface – eventually.
    That is … ” me, me, me … look at me” . … Never mind the state of the nation !! … damn that for a yarn.

    And didn’t he launch straight back into the ” we are not Labor ” mantra ? ,,,, a few hours after 40% of his cabinet voted against him ?

    As Mark commented : … ” the longer it takes, the better for Labor ” … and I agree. … Let’s hope Labor uses that time, effectively, efficiently, with reasoned retaliation, and with good policies hovering in the background, awaiting their correctly ‘timed’ emergence.

  10. June

    Abbott and LNP have effectively painted themselves into a corner. A cornered animal, however, is dangerous, and Abbott, who considers himself a fighter, boasts he has defeated two ALP PMs. This “skite” mere hours after his leadership was questioned by his own party. Can he turn it around … Decidedly not.

    Bill Shorten was outstanding in question time today. On point, eloquent even. He hit the mark. I think I may have under estimated him – I’m not disappointed in my mistake

  11. CMMC

    AbbottRecession

    Make them suffer before they die.

    Choke on your McDiabetes Happy Meal.

    Now, line up for drug testing.

  12. Möbius Ecko

    Within an hour and half of the spill Abbott was lying again, and not long after that engaged in a round of semantics over the word evaluation instead of tender for the submarine project, semantics repeated by some of senior ministers.

    Can he change? Not on his performance since the call for a spill failed.

    Story doing the round that six of Abbott’s senior ministers voted for the spill motion, so it wasn’t all marginalised back benchers.

  13. corvus boreus

    The narrow negative vote on a Liberal leadership spill does little to alleviate internal party tensions and does absolutely nothing to address concerns within the electorate.
    Likewise, in his post-ballot press conference, Mr Abbott made a few small practical ‘concessions’ to political colleagues, but as usual offered nothing but the same hollow slogans to the voting public.
    There is, for the PM, a fundamental denial or cognitive dissonance of the fact that the rumblings in the backbenches are, to a large extent, a reactive echo of the increasing roar of discontent from general populace, who have been offered nothing but meaningless babble about “jobs and families” and “good guvent starts today” to ‘allay our concerns’.
    Tony Abbott cannot turn this game around because he has no real skills beyond the repetitious shouting of simple slogans and widely insulting sledges.

  14. stuff me

    The other problem for Abbott is that know one has ever extricated their head from so far up their arse.

  15. Kaye Lee

    And that is the whole point cb. It might be all very well for the party room to convince themselves that stability is the most important thing but the electorate is overwhelmingly rejecting their policies and have shown their disgust for the arrogance and lies fed to them by a man who is blatantly using the office to feather his own nest and to reward his donors, friends, and family.

    eg He chooses to live at Kirribilli House costing us a fortune. His daughter’s scholarship followed by changes to the education sector which greatly benefited the college who happen to be Liberal Party donors. The ridiculous photo shoots in factories and laboratories so Tony can claim expenses. Offering his best mate, Murdoch journalist Greg Sheridan, the role of High Commissioner to Singapore despite him having no experience or qualifications for the job, likewise sacking Graeme Innes to employ Tim Wilson. Beginning his “fresh start” with the same old lies and slogans. Government contracts to Liberal Party donors. I could go on and on and on.

    Tony made some insignificant promises to his party room. Well good luck with that because he made a lot of very significant promises to the electorate which he continues to break. You guys might be satisfied – we most definitely are not.

  16. Terry2

    Tony is going to socialise all decision making and cabinet members will henceforth be known as comrade or bruvver : turning it around is a euphemism for ‘in a spin’.

  17. DanDark

    And there lies one of thousands of Tones problems,
    He is a fighter” and proud to tell anyone in cooee of himself
    what Australia needs is a lover, a lover of people a lover a lover of nature a lover for humanity, he is only capable of fighting, he is one dimensional and will never change he will only punch harder because that’s all he knows…He is brain damaged which is quite obvious to all..

  18. Graeme Henchel

    Abbott or Turnbull, peas in a pod
    One is smarter, the other a clod
    As Abbott keeps failing, Turnbull might rise
    But there won’t be a change to liberal lies
    The problem’s the way, their world is viewed
    More for the rich, the poor can get screwed
    Together they nobbled the NBN and the ABC
    For the benefit of the Murdochracy
    The IPA plan they’ve been implementing
    Has Turnbull’s full backing and vocal consenting
    And as Turnbull defends each Abbott lie
    He becomes just another turd in a bogus blue tie
    Now the backbench are nervous their future’s in doubt
    Is it Malcolm in and Abbott out?
    The electorate is telling them Abbott’s a liar
    That their policies stink and the polls are dire
    But they seem think that the messaging’s wrong
    Just get a new bird to sing the same song
    Abbott’s survived the first challenge round
    His faults and wounds are seen to abound
    This particular leopard will not change a spot
    The polls will slide more his carcass will rot
    As chaos ensues the knives will be out
    And Abbott’s demise will soon come about
    Malcolm may save them some seats as they sink
    But Abbott’s made sure, they’ll forever stink

  19. stephentardrew

    How can you turn around psychological dysfunction without thorough self-evaluation and recognition of the empirical facts? Abbot and his ilk are fossils from a dystopian imperialist past where class, elitism, cruelty, bullying, injustice and born to rule superiority is the norm. There is no hope of turning ship Liberal Country Party around for they are immersed in ideological dogmatism of judgment, blame and retribution. Anti-science is anti-rationality and ignorance of the causal facts that lead innocent children into a world of conflict and hardship. Compassion arises naturally out of science and biology yet these people are driven by primitive archaic visceral fears and the urge to power and control.

    If Labor does not embrace a more science based set of axioms they too will fail to find the foundational values necessary for a modern compassionate and caring society based in science and logic.

    Looking around much can be said of the failure of capitalism and the dissembling of democracy.

    Our problems are deep and historical yet we must propel ourselves into the modern world or suffer the consequences.

  20. John Fraser

    <

    It's just a "competitive evaluation process" and it will not be long before Abbott slides below the chop of headwinds and the low tide.

  21. Kerri

    Stephen Tardrew your post reminds me of a story I was told by a friend who is an extremely dedicated and up to the minute Dermatologist! I regard his views very highly! When asked by my children was he rich? He replied simply No! I am just very lucky! When local health facilities became privatised and the new bean counters decided to run medical facilites to an efficiency dividend such things were occurring as the accountant after looking through the inventory of medical equipment, first asking the Hospital how mant stents per months were needed? When they reply came that that is an unknown! The accountant informed the Hospital that they were allowed a certain number of stents per month! If they failed to use the allocated stents the number allowed would be reduced accordingly on a month by month basis. No consideration for the fact that a stent is a life saving prosthetic required to keep arteries open and blood flowing. No consideration that people in need of a stent are usually dying and therefore don’t book the operation (and the stroke) so that there are only a certain number used per month! Typical live by the budget, screw the people and money rules all thinking. The same approach was used for bandages etc!
    This is the mentality of the LNP and IPA money first! People last!

  22. Lee

    There will be another spill soon. Many of the back benchers won their seats on small margins and don’t want to lose them.

  23. diannaart

    Graeme Henchel

    Excellent stuff, thank you.

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