Tony Abbott is insisting he be given a title again. He has previously asked to be judged by his deeds so it would be timely to examine just what Abbott achieved when given the opportunity to lead the nation.
Conveniently, the Liberal Party have a website that provides us with a list of their achievements because, I admit, I was at a loss to think of any.
Abbott’s top two achievements are listed as scrapping the carbon and mining taxes. This stellar decision cost tens of billions in lost revenue and expenditure on Direct Action, led to an increase in emissions for the first time in a decade, the cutting of many payments to lower income households like the schoolkids bonus, and the freezing of the superannuation guarantee slashing the retirement savings of all workers.
Number three for Abbott was, of course, “Stopping the boats and stopping the deaths at sea”. The boats and deaths have not stopped – we just made them someone else’s problem. To stop them from coming to us, we incarcerated and tortured innocent people, set others adrift in life rafts, paid people smugglers to take them back, and left boat loads of Rohingya to die of thirst and starvation rather than let them land.
Abbott proudly states that he “committed to take an additional 12,000 refugees from the war torn Middle East.” One of his first acts was to slash the refugee intake by 6,250 a year. As of September 2, we had only resettled 2,000 of the promised 12,000 Syrian refugees.
This has nothing to do with encouraging people to come by legal means as shown by Scott Morrison’s November 2014 retrospective announcement that “Asylum seekers who registered with the United Nations in Indonesia after June this year will no longer be eligible for resettlement in Australia”.
Scott just doesn’t want to be bothered with refugees at all.
“These changes should reduce the movement of asylum seekers to Indonesia and encourage them to seek resettlement in or from countries of first asylum,” Mr Morrison said in a statement. “It is important that these places are not taken up by people seeking to exploit the program by shopping for resettlement through a transit country.”
See the logic? They can’t come here directly and they can’t come through a transit country. Gee it’s convenient not sharing a border isn’t it.
But hey, Abbott apparently “Established the New Colombo Plan”. Please ignore the fact that the Colombo plan has been operating since 1950.
Number four for Tony was “The conclusion of three free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea.”
According to the budget papers, the Korea FTA is expected to cost us $840 million in lost tariff revenue over 5 years to July 2019, the Japan FTA is estimated to lose us $2.16 billion in revenue and the China FTA, $4.15 billion.
They most definitely contributed to the demise of the car industry in Australia and have led to an influx of 457 visa workers in occupations where there are unemployed Australians.
They have put great pressure on some industries, the Australian paper and packaging industry for example – we imported the paper for our ballot papers from China – and the clothing and textile industry – we are paying China to make the dress uniforms for our defence personnel.
And we have the spectre of the ISDS clause which could see our government sued for health or environment laws that affect the profits of big companies.
Tony’s next achievement is listed as his $50 billion infrastructure investment. Except a great deal of it was the reannouncement of funding already allocated by Anthony Albanese and the spending never eventuated as Bernard Keane points out.
What happened within a matter of months was that public infrastructure investment collapsed to levels not seen since the Howard years. ABS data on engineering construction activity charts the collapse across last year. Despite a small recovery in the December  quarter, the “Infrastructure Growth Package” presided over by the “infrastructure Prime Minister” has resulted in public sector infrastructure investment at levels below any point under Labor.
Tony became fixated on the East-West link declaring “there can be no turning back from this major project”. Just over a week later, Abbott insisted the coming Victorian election was “a referendum on the East West Link”. After Victorian Labor won that election, Abbott decided to ignore the “referendum” result and demanded that new Premier Daniel Andrews break his commitment not to proceed with the project.
The benefit:cost ratio of the East-West link was less than parity (0.84 or 0.45 depending which study you read), whereas the Melbourne Metro rail tunnels had a BCR of 1.2, the M80 Ring Road upgrade, a BCR of 2.2, the Monash Freeway upgrades, BCRs over 5. The East West Link has a far lower BCR than any project anywhere in Australia on IA’s “Threshold” or “Ready To Proceed” project lists.
Abbott also claims credit for “Ending five decades of indecision by approving a second airport for Sydney to be located at Badgerys Creek” and for “Providing environmental approvals to 176 projects valued at more than $1 trillion.” I don’t think approvals count for much at all until we see actual construction underway and revenue coming in.
Liberals love cutting taxes and Tony’s list mentions “Delivering the lowest small business tax rate in half a century” and “Scrapping Labor’s bank deposit tax, to protect the savings of hard-working Australians.”
The Gillard government tried to cut the corporate tax rate by 1 per cent, to 29 per cent, in 2011. The Coalition and the Greens combined to block it. And the bank deposit tax was never legislated so he is claiming credit for abolishing something that didn’t exist. The freezing of the SG has hurt the savings of hard-working Australians much more than a tax that never existed.
Tony reminds us he “Established the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption”. Well of course he did. It’s a right of passage for every Liberal PM to have a Royal Commission into construction unions – shame they never look into the employers.
Royal Commission into the activities of the Australian Building Construction Employees’ and Builders Labourers’ Federation (1981–1982)
Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry (2001–2003)
Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption (2014-2015)
As John Quiggan reported,
“In the months since the Commission reported, a string of the charges he recommended have been thrown out or withdrawn. In fact, six months later, there has only been one conviction, resulting in a suspended sentence. The only big fish to be caught since the establishment of Heydon’s star chamber has been the Commission’s own star witness, Kathy Jackson.”
Tony devotes three points to his heightened national security and anti-terror laws which are becoming increasingly draconian despite the negligible threat posed by terrorism in this country. As Ben Eltham put it:
With little debate, and even less contestation, civil liberties and safeguards developed over hundreds of years are being whittled away, constrained, or removed altogether.
“Establishing the Medical Research Future Fund” is an ‘achievement’ I will never understand. I can understand that, if you are retiring, you may want to live on the interest from your capital, but I cannot understand why a government would sit on a stash of $20 billion rather than actually investing it in research. It makes no sense. Why issue bonds to pay for things when you have $4.5 billion sitting there doing basically nothing? Their own report says that “For every dollar invested in Australian research and development, an average of $2.17 in health benefits is returned.” That is a damn sight better return than the 3.5% they are currently getting sitting there hatching the money. They should be investing it and spending even more if it brings a 217% return.
And finally, there is Tony’s claim to be “Beginning the task of Budget repair.” His idea of budget repair has seen the debt blow out by hundreds of billions and the deficit growing to more than GFC levels.
I haven’t touched on the trashing of our international reputation, the crazy captain’s picks, the excruciating attempts at small talk for the cameras, and the lies.
If that list is considered the highlights of Abbott’s achievements, I can see no reason why he would merit consideration in any capacity other than, perhaps, his volunteer work (which I would feel a lot better about if he didn’t always contact the media to make sure they got some shots).
By comparison, I will leave you with an excerpt from a letter published by the Victorian Women’s Trust in July 2013.
Julia Gillard oversaw the introduction of a raft of impressive and far-reaching legislation, showing high-order negotiation skill, sharp intelligence and a great ability to command strategy and detail across complex issues.
Much of this legislation is nation-building, addressing our common future as Australians – the introduction of a carbon price, the roll out of a National Broadband Network, The Murray-Darling Basin Plan, a ground-breaking National Disability Insurance Scheme, a much more equitable model for funding primary and secondary education, a national paid parental leave scheme, and the establishment of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. There were many more reforms. Achievements in foreign policy, including Prime Minister Gillard negotiating the basis for future high level discussions with China, were notable and more far-reaching than those of her recent predecessors.
On her watch as the nation’s Prime Minister, our growing economy has been the envy of the world – low unemployment, low interest rates, low inflation and triple-A credit ratings.
We salute former Prime Minister Julia Gillard for getting on with the business of governing for us, the people; for the skilful negotiation, resolve and the leadership required to maintain the confidence of the Lower House; for steering the government through a full term; for enabling close to 500 pieces of legislation to be passed; for introducing significant and visionary reforms that will deliver great benefit to the Australian people in the time to come; and for remaining strong and poised when everything bar the kitchen sink was thrown at her.