On July 2 Lenore Taylor wrote an article in The Guardian titled Tony Abbott’s policy gap: what’s on theCcoalition’s “Figure it out later” list?
In it she summarises LNP policy”. Or more accurately as the title suggests tells us that in reality it consists of a miss mash of uncosted plans and thought bubbles that really just ask the electorate to elect us and we will “Figure it out later”.
When I finished her piece I was a little alarmed. No perhaps I was a little angry and I asked myself. What do we expect from an opposition or indeed what is opposition. Tony Abbott is on the record as saying that the function of opposition is to oppose. I fundamentally disagree with that proposition. An opposition’s job is to hold a government to account but just as importantly is its duty to show that it is a worthy alternative. Mr Abbott is also said to be the most effective opposition leader the country has ever had. If by definition this means that by being negative about your country and having little regard for the common good then those who embellish him with this title are probably correct.
On the other hand I would judge him on his alternativeness”. We the taxpayers of Australia pay our politicians to do a job. Mr Abbott has been opposition leader for some four and a half years now and an election is upon us. We have been paying him all this time to formulate policies that the people could reasonably consider as alternatives to the governments. Thus far he has not delivered. Not one costed policy is before the people for their perusal.
For a moment let’s look at Mr Abbott as the CEO of a Public Company who had been charged with the re structure of his company. He has been given three years to complete the task with recourse to adequate resources to complete the mission. What progress do you think he has made? Are the shareholders entitled to question his work ethic and those of his subordinates? He has to face a shareholders meeting soon. Is the business plan in a reasonable condition taking into account the common good of all the stakeholders? Will the costing’s stand up to the most rigorous inspection. After all the future of the company is at stake.
As Lenore Taylor points out:
“We are spending a lot of time talking about Kevin. But we also need to talk about Tony’s policies – the ones we know about, but particularly the ones we don’t know about, and probably won’t when we cast a vote.’’
“Real Solutions for all Australians” plan, which looks reassuringly like a big book of policies, all chunky and nicely bound, but is actually a much less definitive collection of goals and priorities, with very little detail.”
‘’But Abbott has also said clearly there are a long list of policies he will not announce in detail before this poll, but will think about afterwards. Having attacked Kevin Rudd in 2007 for “hitting the ground reviewing”, the Coalition has a “figure it out later” list easily as long.”
As chairman of the board I would be entitled to say that a “figure it out later’’ policy is not policy at all and I would be entitled to sack him. All he is doing I would argue is trying to foist upon the shareholders an inadequate plan in the hope that they are gullible enough to accept it. And in doing so obtain a position of trust he is unworthy of. And together with that all the perks that go with the job without putting in the hard yards.
Below is a list of policy arrears itemised from Leonor Taylor’s article. I am sure after reading it that you will agree with me. This is simply not good enough. The opposition has had three years to piece together and put before the Australian public policies as an alternative to those of the ALP. If the public accepts this nonsense and takes Mr Abbott on trust they must truly have rocks in their heads.
• Education funding. The education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, has said the Coalition wants to repeal Labor’s Gonksi funding package, roll over the existing system for two years and in that time strike a different funding agreement with the states. It is difficult for the Coalition to develop an alternative policy while details of the government’s policy continue to change and it remains unclear how many states will sign funding deals, but nevertheless, it seems parents will vote at this election without knowing how much money the Coalition is promising to spend on education beyond its first two years in power.
Tax Policy. Abbott has said he will repeal the carbon and mining taxes and promised a “modest” company tax cut, with the size and timing still uncertain. He has also said he will have a white paper, a full review of the tax system, with any subsequent decisions to be taken to the next election.
• Climate change. Business is desperate to know how the 2009 Direct Action policy will actually work, but usually emerge from meetings with the Coalition spokesman, Greg Hunt, with few answers. Hunt has promised a white paper after the election to flesh out the details, with legislation to be finalised within six months of a Coalition term.
• Renewable energy. The Coalition has promised a review of the 20% renewable energy target in 2014, even though it was already reviewed by the Climate Change Authority just last year. Some in the Coalition are demanding that it be scrapped altogether. More likely, say senior sources, it will be wound back a little, because its promise to deliver 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy by 2020 is working out to be more like 25%, due to falling electricity demand. Bottom line: the renewable energy industry is not sure what will happen to the target under the Coalition.
• Federal state relations and Coag. In his budget-in-reply speech, Abbott promised that within two years of a change of government, working with the states, the Coalition would produce a white paper on Coag reform, and the responsibilities of different governments, to ensure that, as far as possible, the states are sovereign in their own sphere. The objective will be to reduce and end, as far as possible, the waste, duplication and second-guessing between different levels of government that has resulted, for instance, in the commonwealth employing 6,000 health bureaucrats even though it doesn’t run a single hospital.”
• Financial system. The shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, has said he will have a “root and branch review” to improve competition in the banking sector.
• Spending. The Coalition will announce savings in the lead-up to the poll but it has also promised a “commission of audit” after the election, to review government spending “top to bottom”, rein in waste, identify where taxpayer funds should be spent and start “with a clean slate” on government spending. That’s a pretty broad brief.
• Northern Australia. The absence of a northern Australia policy would not normally be notable, but Abbott recently released a “vision” to have a white paper on the development of the north. The “vision” said the white paper would look at most of the ideas being vocally advocated by mining magnate Gina Rinehart and the Institute of Public Affairs, but in terms so vague and non-committal it is unclear whether the Coalition intends to actually do them, or was just trying to appease its powerful backers.
• Industrial relations. The Coalition’s policy promises only minor changes to the fair work laws, but will ask the Productivity Commission to undertake a “comprehensive and broad” review of industrial relations policy – with the results to be taken to the next election
• Car industry assistance. We know the Coalition will cut $500m from the budgeted car industry assistance between now and 2015. It says it will have another Productivity Commission inquiry into what assistance should be provided after that and how it should be spent. Given that the industry says ongoing assistance is essential for its survival, that leaves a large question mark.
* Childcare policy will be the subject of yet another Productivity Commission review. The terms of reference ask for policy to be assessed against the working hours and needs of modern families, and leave open the possibility of government rebate being extended to in-home nannies. That all sounds good, but we also know spending will be constrained so the results remain unclear.
* Competition policy. The Coalition has given mixed signals on competition policy, saying both that the existing laws are too onerous and that small business needs more protection against large competitors. Competition law will be the subject of another “root and branch review” after the election.
It can be seen that there is very little policy in all this. Plenty of reviews that will take another three years. And of course no costings. Oppositions have to be more than opposition for opposition’s sake. More than just endless negativity and suspensions of standing orders. We must demand more from them. Otherwise what are we paying them for? We deserve better.
Incidentally Lenore Taylor is to be congratulated for being one of the few journalists in mainstream media who focuses on policy areas.