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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Tony Abbott can't win the battle of ideas with no ideas

Tony Abbott can't win the battle of ideas with no ideas

Tony Abbott can't win the battle of ideas with no ideas

Tony Abbott’s negativity made him a formidable opposition leader, but
the cynical opportunism of that time has held him back as prime

tony abbott

‘The opposition leader who promised so much has morphed into a confused
prime minister – a man rapidly sinking into the quicksand of his own
negativity’ Photograph: AAP

great philosophers, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, wrote and sang in
1965: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. Australian voters might be
reminding themselves of this today, as they consider the disappointment
known as the Abbott government.

This is a government defined by disappointment, deceit and incompetence.

The opposition leader who promised so much has morphed into a
confused prime minister – a man rapidly sinking into the quicksand of
his own negativity. The source of this government’s dysfunction is the
cynical opportunism of its period in opposition.

parties in opposition focus on holding governments to account and on
rebuilding their credibility by developing new ideas. Like Dan Andrews
did in Victoria, they make themselves participants in the battle of

When the Abbott government was in opposition its only focus was on
attacking the former Labor government. As opposition leader, the prime
minister built his entire case for power on anti-Labor hatred and
three-word slogans.

Everything was about politics and nothing was about policy.

That is why the Tories have retreated to their comfort zone today.
Without positive ideas they have been forced to lean heavily on Tony
Abbott’s regressive and punitive personal ideology – one that values
individualism ahead of equity and opportunity.

Abbott’s negativity did make him a formidable opposition leader, but
it makes him a pretty bad prime minister. We now see that negativity is
all he ever had. It is his only weapon. He is a one-trick Tony.

You cannot win the battle of ideas if you have no ideas; you cannot
run an economy on three-word slogans; you do not create jobs by saying
“no” to everything; and you do not inspire people by misleading them.

Before the election, the prime minister promised no cuts to health,
education, pensions, the ABC or SBS. He promised no new taxes. In
government, he has cut $80bn from health and education, slashed funding
for the ABC and SBS and created new taxes whenever people visit a GP or
fill up their car at the petrol bowser.

salt into the wounds, he has since insulted the electorate’s
intelligence with Monty Pythonesque claims that he has not broken any

The prime minister is on the wrong side of history; his place defined
not by leadership and forward-thinking but by a sad yearning for a less
equal and less progressive past – a place where average Australians pay
a Medicare levy every week only to be told they have to pay again to
visit a doctor; where education is about entrenching privilege, not
spreading opportunity; where climate science is derided; and where a
visiting US president’s praise for the splendour of the Great Barrier
Reef is attacked by those opposite as an affront to our national

It is a place where our renewable energy target has been so
successful that it has to be scrapped; where we have only one woman in
the cabinet; where radio shock jocks and partisan newspaper columnists
set the government’s political agenda; where bigotry is a right; where
people communicate over ageing copper wire rather than 21st century
fibre; and a place where the long-faded trappings of our colonial past
are revived through the reintroduction of the British honours system.

The Abbott government has misread the egalitarian nature of
Australian culture. Australians care about the fair go. Australians
support measures to improve the budget, but they are not stupid.

They know that when a single income family on $65,000 a year will be
$6,000 a year worse off every year, while corporate tax cheats are a
protected species, that budget repair is being used as a cover for an
ideological agenda. The 2014 budget was not a plan for the future but an
attack on the gains of the past. Australians know it is unfair and they
are demanding better.

In my own area of infrastructure, the prime minister has treated his election promises like plates at a Greek wedding.

The government said it would preserve the independence of
Infrastructure Australia. What they have done is try to remove that
independence through legislation – an attempt abandoned only after
pressure from Labor and business groups, including the Business Council
of Australia, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and, indeed,
Infrastructure Australia itself.

The government said they would reappoint Sir Rod Eddington as the
chairman of Infrastructure Australia but they appointed a former Liberal
party minister instead. They said they would not invest in
infrastructure without cost-benefit analysis to ensure value for money.
Then they took money from Infrastructure Australia priority projects
that had had cost-benefit analysis done and reallocated it to the East
West Link, Westconnex and a Perth freight link.

The government said there would be cranes and bulldozers at work on
new projects within 12 months of their election. But there are no
bulldozers, just bull dust.

They said they would pay money to states for infrastructure projects
in stages, based on the achievement of milestones. Then they gave the
Victorian government a $1.5bn advance payment for the East West Link, a
project that has not commenced construction.

They pretend they are investing in new infrastructure, but they
continue to travel the nation on a magical infrastructure
re-announcement tour, seeking ownership of existing projects funded by
the previous Labor government.

Worst of all, the few new road projects in the budget are being
funded by cuts to all Commonwealth investment in public transport
projects not under construction.

The prime minister, in his manifesto Battlelines, wrote:

Mostly there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a
particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to
justify any vehicle larger than a car and cars need roads.

That is an absurd proposition for any national leader to make in 2014.

I do not remember a more cringeworthy moment than when he had an
opportunity to speak to the world’s leaders about a vision for the
future at the recent G20 meeting in Brisbane. Abbott’s contribution
involved whinging about Australians not supporting his GP tax and
proudly declaring he had removed a price on carbon.

There is no issue too big for Abbott to show how small he is. Serious
world leaders want to act on climate change and envy our system of
universal health care.

The problem is not that Abbott is stuck in the past. It is that he
wants the rest of Australia to go back there and keep him company.

Australians are sick of the negativity this government has brought to national political debate.

They want a government to focus on what really matters: them, jobs,
access to health care, equity of opportunity through access to
education; cities that are productive, sustainable and liveable; healthy
communities that value diversity; and an integrated transport system
that includes both public transport and roads.

Above all, Australians want a government that governs in accordance with Australian values, like that of the fair go.

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