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Tag Archives: Policy

Love the one you’re with

tony_friendly

Tony Abbott is your friend.

In fact, he’s everyone’s friend. He’s so inoffensive to anyone that why there should be resistance to his nefarious schemes is inexplicable. Tony Abbott, and his Coalition, are unfeasibly flexible; whoever you might be, whatever interest group you represent, the Coalition is on your side. One day Abbott will be patting you on the back and swearing his undying support for your cause; the next day he’s in the enemy’s camp and promising your head. Tony Abbott is the friend who will promise you undying support, so long as it will not require him to take action against the other group to whom he has already pledged his undying support.

This article was originally going to be about the shape of Tony Abbott’s first week in government, if he’d really been held to all the promises he had made. The first week would have been spent in the north of Australia, but it’s doubtful whether Abbott would have had the time to focus on indigenous issues considering the hectic schedule of legislation he had promised. Carefully-worded non-promises aside, however, many of the concrete legislative promises which the Coalition offered have been met on schedule – at least to the point of beginning investigations and committees, if not the actual drawing of legislation. Blandishments in the current world of politics need to be made very carefully. Tony Abbott himself raised the petard of “liar”, of an inflexible requirement to deliver exactly what you promised during a campaign. Leading politicians are now very aware of this pitfall and make certain to couch their statements and their support in terms that are vague enough or specific enough in their limitations that you can get away with less than people thought you had promised.

So the article went on hold. Then the Prime Minister’s hectic round of international travel and meetings began and gave another angle to examine. The thing in common between the promises made, over many weeks to many audiences, about initial actions and legislation, and the approach to international leaders, has been one of inconstancy. Or more precisely, being a “man for all seasons” – constantly nodding agreeably to whomever he is addressing.

It’s partly an outcome of the small target approach the Coalition took to the election campaign, and in the heat of an electoral campaign a bit of “policy flexibility” may be excused. It’s not as if the Coalition is unique in this regard; Kevin Rudd took the art form to new heights himself, earning himself the moniker Chameleon Rudd.

However, once in government, and temporarily freed of the pressures of a looming election, a politician is lumbered with certain inconvenient hindrances that don’t harness him/her in opposition; hindrances like actual power, and actual interactions with people outside of the need to get them to vote for you. In this circumstance, it becomes necessary to have the courage of your convictions; in Tony Abbott’s parlance, to “say what you mean and do what you say”. It is disheartening to see that the Coalition, one month into government, appears to be maintaining its approach refined so successfully during its time in opposition. In any number of ways Tony Abbott’s Coalition is still an Opposition, still seeking to demonise the failures of the other side whilst minimising scrutiny of their own intentions and actions. And they are still telling people what they want to hear, assuming they tell them anything at all.

It may be instructive to examine a few of the many faces of Tony Abbott and the Coalition.

On Diplomacy

Kaye Lee helpfully summarised the following in the comments on “Transforming Tony Abbott” a recent AIMN post.

Japan is Australia’s closest friend in the region. However, we are also BFF with Indonesia, “in many respects our most important overall relationship”. Except, of course, for Papua New Guinea, because there is no more important relationship for Australia. One wonders how many respects are left to qualify Tony Abbott’s statement that “New Zealand is in many respects Australia’s closest relationship.” One can only hope that if they’re ever in a room together, those four countries can work out where their relative standings with Australia sit, because I certainly can’t.

On Foreign investment

Australia’s sovereignty and ability to feed itself is at risk. So obviously the laws surrounding foreign investment need to be tightened up. Except that we also need to inject “…momentum into deals with China, Japan and South Korea as a matter of urgency” and lure foreign investment back. It helps that the Coalition has under its roof representatives who passionately believe in foreign investment, and those who obstinately oppose it, so it’s possible to send the right person to the right forum to ensure the right message is given. So long as they don’t go telling their position to the media, which gets read by interests of both persuasions.

On climate change

Tony Abbott’s varied positions on climate change are well documented. Commencing with his famous 2009 statement that the science around “climate change is crap” – itself a 180 turnaround from his previous position – he has been variously a supporter of a carbon tax, a trenchant opponent to any kind of market mechanism, a reluctant convert to the anthropogenic origin of global warming, and most recently both an advocate of the Direct Action plan’s ability to meet targets, and an apologist in advance of when it doesn’t. About the only position he’s not recorded to have held is support for a market-based price on carbon, which economists and ecologists alike think has the greatest bang for buck in carbon abatement. Of course, his actions upon reaching government hark back to his original poor view of climate science, indicating that if he’s unable to change his opinion in an area where the science is becoming ever more irrefutable and the consequences ever more dire, he is unlikely to change his original beliefs in many other areas either.

See http://www.crikey.com.au/2011/03/09/climate-change-cage-match-abbott-debates-abbott/, wherein Tony Abbott debates Tony Abbott on climate change science.

On industrial relations

It’s commonly accepted wisdom that Workchoices was the Coalition’s downfall in 2007. Tony Abbott was regarded then as a moderate, which may be part of the reason that Labor’s personal attacks on the man and fear campaign regarding the resurrection of Workchoices policy was not as effective as hoped. In this policy area, the Coalition is spoilt for choice when it comes to the messages they deliver the electorate. Do they roll out Tony Abbott, the “best friend of workers“? Or if the audience is made up of big business and industrial heavyweights, would it be more appropriate to send in workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz?

It’s true that the Coalition’s IR policy – this term – is cautious, to the point that some business leaders and ex-politicians have called it “timid”. The sense is that this is an area where the electorate is still tender after being bitten by the Coalition’s previous attempt. There are exceptions, though, largely because the Coalition wants to be able to give big business good news. Thus we see the push to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a body whose primary achievement was to decrease workplace safety and lead directly to a spike in workplace accidents and deaths. And we see the vilification of unions.

Unions are one group to whom the Coalition does not seek to speak softly. This is why the Coalition’s rhetoric has been about “union thuggery” and “union corruption”; the intent is to drive a wedge between workers and their historic support groups. Unions provide monetary and other support to Labor and it is for this reason that they must be curtailed, but you can’t directly attack the union movement without first discrediting it.

The weakness of Teflon Tony

The examples above are prominent policy areas, but the technique of saying to each audience the thing most closely calculated to their own hearts is one that sees use in a multitude of areas. Whether he’s telling farmers that they should have the right to refuse entry of mining leases to their farms, or supporting the ability of mining companies to enter private property at will; whether he’s promising that a paid maternity scheme will be “over my dead body”, or proposing his own scheme an order of magnitude bigger than the one that Labor had just rolled out to acclaim, Tony Abbott and his Coalition will say anything to anyone. Words are cheap and promises are meaningless.

In late 2012, in the throes of the US election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney self-destructed because of this exact kind of policy vagueness. In the case of Romney, the Democrats and at least some parts of the media were willing to draw attention to his various contradictory promises and policy positions. The message to Australians is that it is possible to overcome a hostile media (in the US, Fox News is almost as overbearing as the various Murdoch enterprises down under) – so long as there is a will to expose inconstancy for what it is. It’s too late for 2013, but if the Coalition will maintain its T-1000 approach to communications, it will soon enough be time to highlight that for every favourable position the Coalition has held, it has also held the alternative position, and the only real way to tell the intentions of the party in the future is to examine them in the recent past.

We all know to judge a man by what he does, not by what he says. This is doubly true of the Coalition. During the next term of government, and leading into the next election in three years – if not before – the left, and the media, need to focus not on the Coalition’s statements, but on the range of opinions they have held as a backdrop to their statements; and not what the Coalition says and promises, but on what it has done.

If you believe in a fairer, more considerate Australia, a more progressive Australia, a clever country that designs and builds things and innovates new technology rather than relying on the non-renewable resources with which this country has gifted us, then Tony Abbott is not your friend. Whatever he might say to your face.

Mr Fox wants you to vote for Mr Rabbit

Image by leahsands.com

Image by leahsands.com

INTERVIEWER Good morning, Mr Rabbit.

MR RABBIT Good morning.

INTERVIEWER For the past three years, the polls have had you as the one expected to take over the Farm, but with the recent change to Kevin Rooster, that’s no longer certain.

MR RABBIT Well, that’s for the animals to decide. I’d rather talk about my plans for the farm once we have the right sort of animals in charge again.

INTERVIEWER And what would those plans be?

MR RABBIT They’re all there in our booklet, “Real Solutions for Imaginary Problems”.

INTERVIEWER But could you outline a few of them? After that’s been one of the criticisms – that you refuse to talk about what you intend to do.

MR RABBIT That’s just more of the negativity coming from Mr Rooster. He was only elected because of the support of the headless hens, you know. Even his some of his own chickens say that he’s impossible to work for.

INTERVIEWER Those same chickens that you’ve been telling us to ignore for the past few years?

MR RABBIT Look, ah, that’s not the issue. The issue is that they refuse to talk policy, they’re just concerned with personalities.

INTERVIEWER Mr Rooster offered to talk policy with you just the other day.

MR RABBIT I’ll talk policy with him when he calls the election.

INTERVIEWER On the matter of policy, will you still be keeping some of Julia Rhode Island Red’s reforms?

MR RABBIT Well, ah, that will depend on… ah, which policies. But we’ll certainly get rid of the tax on animal droppings.

INTERVIEWER So, you don’t have a problem with animals leaving their droppings without cleaning them up.

MR RABBIT Why should we go it alone? I regard this as a restriction on our basic freedom.

INTERVIEWER Some are suggesting that this is because you’re basically not a domestic animal, that you’re really still wild. And that this explains why Rupert Fox is pushing so hard to have you elected. That you’ll allow wild animals like him to run rampart over the farm.

MR RABBIT It’s those like Mr Fox that are providing work for the animals on this farm. If it weren’t for animals like him, we’d all starve.

INTERVIEWER He was particularly critical of crackdown on 457 visas, saying that it was racist and disgusting.

MR RABBIT Yes, why shouldn’t we bring in animals from other farms to do work that the animals here aren’t capable of doing?

INTERVIEWER I’m just wondering how that sits with your strong stance on “stopping the goats”.

MR RABBIT That’s different. The goats are coming in illegally.

INTERVIEWER But wasn’t that the argument with those misusing the 457 visas – that they were doing so illegally?

MR RABBIT The two situations are entirely different.

INTERVIEWER How?

MR RABBIT Some of these goats threw their kids in the water.

INTERVIEWER I don’t think there’s any evidence of that.

MR RABBIT Calm down. There’s no need to dispute anything I’m saying. They don’t do that over at Fox.

INTERVIEWER Finally, Mr Rabbit what do you see as the main challenges ahead?

MR RABBIT Stopping Mr Bull from launching a challenge to my leadership before the election.

INTERVIEWER I meant for the farm.

MR RABBIT Oh… Ah… Repairing the damage that Kevin and his sheep have done to the barn.

INTERVIEWER Wasn’t that damage done in the storm of 2007.

MR RABBIT Yes, but they haven’t fixed it. None of the other farms have leaky barns.

INTERVIEWER Isn’t that because all the other farms had their barns blown away?

MR RABBIT Stop the goats!

INTERVIEWER That’s all we have time for, Mr Rabbit, thank you.

MR RABBIT Did I mention that we have a booklet?

An Open Letter to Tony Abbott

If only Tony Abbott were reading this letter (image by 4bc.com.au)

If only Tony Abbott were reading this letter (image by 4bc.com.au)

Dear Tony Abbott

I notice that you’ve been getting a free run in the mainstream media over your whole career and it occurred to me that you are out of practice in responding to scrutiny. So I thought I’d do you a favour and scrutinise your supposed vision for our country, on the off chance that this experience might come in useful one day. Like, just say, if you become Prime Minister of Australia and someone dares to ask you what on earth you might actually do during your time in the top job. Assuming anyone cares.

Now bear with me as I examine your policies, as I do understand that you are very keen not to reveal these until the last minute before the election. So I’m just going to have to go by ideas that you’ve floated and talking points that your colleagues have mistakenly inserted in between the barrage of harassment, verbal abuse, smear and stunts that is your unique brand of Opposition conduct.

Let’s start with an important policy – the Carbon Price. We haven’t missed that you don’t like this policy. You resigned from Turnbull’s Shadow Ministry in 2009 in protest against his support of Rudd’s Emissions Trading policy. You won the Liberal leadership by one vote (probably Peter Slipper’s) by promising to attack this policy. You won the support of your fossilized front bench by mounting a mission to destroy the Carbon Price. And most importantly, you won the support of Gina Rinehart, someone who appears to hate the Carbon Price more than you do, by promising to ‘axe the tax’. This strategy has literally paid dividends to your party. So I can see, from your point of view, your opposition to this policy is a winner. But this is where I have a slight problem. It’s the whole ‘your point of view’ thing. You see, Tony, when I look at your policies, all I can see is that they are going to benefit you. You personally. When your policies also coincidentally benefit some of your rich mates like Rinehart, the end result is that these rich mates pay your party money to continue your quest to help them. Their support personally benefits you. You’ve made it very clear that you’re an ambitious person and you obviously desperately want to be PM. Tony Windsor has a voice mail from you that outlines this desperation succinctly. But here’s the rub. I feel you’ve also made it blatantly clear with your behaviour and ideas over your time as Leader of the Opposition that you are more interested in short term personal gain for yourself, than long term, difficult but ultimately beneficial reform for Australia.

Your Direct Action Policy is obviously bullshit and won’t go anywhere near meeting the emissions reduction target agreed to by your party. You don’t seem to mind that you’re attacking market based mechanisms (Carbon Pricing and the ETS), which is odd because your party is very fond of letting the market run free. Instead, you are advocating a centrally controlled, government funded scheme that will cost tax payers $30 billion dollars and would definitely be labeled ‘Communism’ by your friends from the Tea Party. $30 billion dollars, Tony, is a lot of electricity bills. And worst of all, you don’t seem to give a crap about the environment and the effect that Climate Change will have on my generation and future generations of Australians. (Notice how I used the word crap).

The Carbon Price was a difficult reform for the minority Labor government to implement. Good reforms are often challenging political battles to win. Successfully implementing the policy, of course, was made a lot harder by your anti-Carbon Price circus, but thankfully the Labor government prevailed, the sky didn’t fall down and Whyalla hasn’t been wiped off the map. In fact, emissions are already reducing. Good result! But rather than applaud this policy success, and acknowledge the good that it will do for reducing Australia’s emissions, and also the importance of acting as a responsible global citizen, you are basing an election campaign on a promise to kill this crucial, once in a lifetime reform. To deliver what exactly? Slightly cheaper electricity bills. So you’re appealing to the electorate’s lowest common denominator – their hip pockets – today – rather than being a leader and making the necessary tough decisions to ensure the safety and economic security of our nation’s future.

What about the National Broadband Network? Your so-called mate Turnbull is trumpeting this reform around town as a waste of money. Like a used car salesman trying to undercut a dealer down the road, Turnbull is offering a cheaper, lesser quality broadband network, in the place of the one that experts in the technology sector say is the only viable option for sufficiently increasing broadband speeds Australia wide. Getting the National Broadband Network right the first time, rather than paying less and installing a lemon, is, in my view, very important for the future efficiency and productivity of Australia’s economy. Your party likes to talk about increasing productivity doesn’t it? But again, you take the easy road to policy popularity and mislead the Australian public into thinking that you can wave a magic wand and fix everything with your supposedly bottomless pit of revenue. It’s clear that experts and you don’t see eye to eye. But I can tell you, the electorate is going to be rightly pissed off if you rip apart a high quality, revenue generating broadband network, and replace it with one that keeps Telstra in the arrangement, relies on rotting copper and will result not only in lower speeds but in tens of thousands of ugly fridge-like cabinets churning away on suburban streets and sucking power. That’s right, the NBNCo cabinets currently being installed around the country are small and don’t require power. The fibre being installed currently is waterproof, so it won’t cut out when an area floods (due to Climate Change) and will provide the fastest possible signal to most of the country. But you plan to replace this technically superior product with a dodgy ‘solution’ that will require a new coal fired power station just to run it, and will keep Telstra happily maintaining copper that is way past its used by date. In fact most experts are now questioning whether Turnbull’s Fibre-To-The-Node solution will end up costing more than the current NBN. It’s interesting to note that you don’t seem to give much thought to what might happen on the other side of September 14. There’s only one thing you care about. You and you being in power, right now.

I noticed that one of your policies (or so called ‘Discussion Papers’) about a northern Australian economic zone accidentally got leaked to the media this week. I see you have been busy denying that this plan will ever be put into practice, but excuse me if I don’t believe you. You see, we know how much Rinehart means to you (your pocket) and your future plans for your career. We know how important getting rid of the mining super profits tax is to Rinehart. Funny that you and your colleagues have been calling on Wayne Swan to resign because the Mining Tax so far hasn’t brought in enough revenue. Don’t you think this attitude is pretty rich coming from the party who has promised to get rid of the tax, and it’s resulting government revenue, altogether? No doubt you think you can get away with such hypocrisy since the mainstream media never call you out on anything. But we all know how much you would like to support Rinehart in her quest to pay little or no tax at all. So we can see that you’re working behind the scenes to bring Rinehart’s plan for this country to fruition. It’s really not a good look that you’d prefer to support Rinehart’s ever growing multi-billion dollar fortune, rather than sharing the benefits from the sale of mineral resources with all Australians. I think the electorate would think this was a pretty bad look too if the mainstream media bothered to make as big a deal out of it as they would if they had any professional integrity and journalistic skill.

The more I scrutinise the bare bones of un-costed ideas that claim to count as political policy, the better I get to know you Tony. You’re that five year old who takes the one marshmallow now, instead of deferring gratification in order to wait for two in the future. You’re offering the Australian people a magic pudding economy of higher government spending, lower taxes, a better economy, lower cost of living and no concerns about Climate Change, that anyone with half a brain can see that you have no hope of delivering. Yet you are so blinkered by blind ambition and selfish yearnings for personal success that it’s clear that you don’t give a shit about Australia. And this is why I think you don’t deserve to be captain of a CFS unit, let alone Prime Minister of this country.

Yours Sincerely
Victoria Rollison