Being in Government is different to being in Opposition. John Menadue

Dec 6, 2013

Tony Abbott is being mugged by the reality of Government and how he manages day to day events. He has very little of a developed policy framework on which to draw.

In Opposition, Tony Abbott was  adept at the political one-liners – ‘stop the boats’, ‘axe the tax’,’ reduce the deficit’ and ‘pay back the debt’. There was not a great deal of policy to back up this political rhetoric. We are now seeing that day after day with one blunder after another.

The NSW Premier O’Farrell put it succinctly over education policy that the Abbott Government should start governing and stop acting as if it was still in opposition.

Power may be abused, but power also reveals character. In one event after another, we are seeing the character of the Abbott Government.

  • In Opposition, Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop said that they didn’t seek Indonesian agreement but understanding on turn-back of boats at sea and the buying up of Indonesian fishing vessels. In Opposition, they didn’t hear or chose not to hear Indonesian objections to this clear infringement of Indonesian sovereignty. So when the telephone interceptions of discussions by President Yudhoyono and his wife were made public, it was an ideal opportunity for Indonesia to push back on Operation Sovereign Borders. Tony Abbott and his government then clumsily mis-managed the whole episode. In opposition you can take risks with other countries that you can’t take in government.  Would his close associates also tell him that many people and particularly Asians don’t like their personal space being invaded by aggressive hand-shaking?
  • The Abbott Government is clearly finding that abolishing the carbon tax is not as easy as it thought. Blind Freddy would know that the Senate would present difficulties. Furthermore Tony Abbott should know that unscrambling the carbon tax will present major problems for business.
  • Tony Abbott told us that his government would be “open for business”. Then he vetoed the bid for Graincorp. Peter Reith, a leading figure in the Liberal Party, and a former defence minister said that the government decision on Graincorp was ‘the latest in a series of botched decisions’. He added that the Graincorp decision ‘had Tony Abbott’s fingerprints all over it’.
  • Then there was the massive climb-down on budget deficits and debt. Both Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are running as fast as they can from their election undertakings.
  • In Opposition, the Liberal Party said that it would abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which was set up to assist investment in clean energy. The Chairman of the Corporation and a highly respected businesswoman, Jillian Broadbent has said that ‘it is disappointing that a tool that is fiscally responsible and effective is being abandoned’.
  • Then there was the fiasco of Christopher Pyne over school funding with three different positions in one week. The SMH in its editorial of December 3, carried the headline ‘Electorate, Students, betrayed by cynicism of PM and Pyne’. For sheer incompetence Christopher Pyne gets top marks. We thought we had a consensus or a “unity ticket” on school funding but the Abbott  Government has blown that away ,in the same way that Tony Abbott blew away the consensus we used to have on climate change when Malcolm Turnbull led the Liberal Party
  • The Chinese Government announced new rules for airspace in the dispute over islands in the South China Sea. The Australian Government attacked the Chinese announcement, but then allowed Qantas to abide by the new Chinese rules.
  • Scott Morrison continues to hide information about boat arrivals. The Canberra Press Gallery veteran, Laurie Oakes, says that ‘The Abbott Government is thumbing its nose at voters through a lack of transparency and communication’.
  • Then came the keystone cops activities of George Brandis and ASIO in raids on a whistle blower and an attorney over bugging of the East Timor Cabinet. There will be a lot more to come on this one.
  • Then there were the attacks on the ABC and an agreement with the Greens to abolish the debt ceiling. What’s next!
  • And all this began with the parliamentary entitlements scandal with Tony Abbott leading the peloton.

Surely this muddle and confusion must end soon. But a Cabinet that includes Christopher Pyne, George Brandis, Barnaby Joyce, Greg Hunt, Eric Abetz, Scott Morrison, Kevin Andrews and Peter Dutton, is a cause for worry.

I don’t recall a government that has had such a short honeymoon as this one. The first 100 days have been memorable for the wrong reasons. It has yet to successfully make the transition from Opposition to Government.

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