Eric Walsh.  A ‘ragged’ year not a ‘ragged’ week.

Dec 6, 2014

Nobody laughed – things must be different in the press gallery these days.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott in one of his longest press conferences was trying desperately to erase the hangover from the setbacks which have dogged him and his government since his dismal performance at the G20 meeting which he had hoped – forlornly as it proved – would rescue the image of a very disordered and unimpressive government. He was trying to end the year on what at least might seem to be a high note.

He had just told the assembled media that despite the ‘dire’ state of the economy which had been his theme for more than 12 months, he could not abandon his universally unpopular $5 million paid parental leave scheme which will benefit only very rich women. This would, he said, be seen as breaking a promise. This, while he was being peppered with questions on his Kristallnacht of promises on health, education, pensions, tax,  petrol pricing, the ABC and SBS and even on his water buy-back policy from the Murray Darling system.

Such a brazen failure to read the mood of the meeting might in other days of the press gallery cause at least some audible amused incredulity. Billy McMahon, exhibiting similar ill-based self-assurance, could certainly not have got away without a snigger.

This press conference was supposed to set the scene for a high-note ending to his government’s first full year in office. Like many of Tony’s recent endeavours, it failed. Tony has developed a new principle by which he evaluates his government’s performance. ‘Things aren’t what they are – they are what Tony says they are’. It’s catching on with some of his ministers – a very quick adaptee is Treasurer Joe Hockey.

In his last week of a pretty dismal year, guided by this principle, Tony tried to convince his questioners that the government had a single ‘ragged’ week – not a ‘ragged’ fifteen months as demonstrated by the authoritative Newspoll the next day. The government was still in a heavily losing position as it has been in Newspoll and every other poll since November last year, and worst, stuck at the new low it hit with the production of its first budget back in May.

The principle is holding good too in reviewing presentation of his government’s controversial policies. Crippling moves on education, health, pensions, etc., are not broken promises taken from Tony’s innovative viewpoint. Unsurprisingly others, like electors, might and currently seem to see them in a different light. Tony using his same self-created prism assures us the Barrier Reef is not endangered by climate change; consumers, not bankers, will benefit from the removal of safeguards involving financial advice; students will somehow be better off paying up to $100,000 to earn a degree and pensioners won’t be worse-off having their payments calculated in the new way this budget proposes. There are a host of other propositions on which the voter seems determined to see things as they are rather than what Tony says they are.  Look at the polls.

And there is another major promise on which Tony has not yet been called by either the Opposition or the media. Robustly confident of an election win Tony declared that in government he would not be dealing with minor parties or Independents to win passage for policies which at the time voters were assured were not happening. In recent weeks our major political coverage has involved the very negotiations – only occasionally successful – that Tony assured us would not happen. And he went further. He would, he promised, not hesitate to take parliament to a double dissolution in order to tame the Opposition and get his program implemented.

A mere glance at the opinion polls tells us why this remains another broken promise. But it does not explain why he has so far been unchallenged by either Opposition or press on the question. Highly unfavourable opinion polls are not the only deterrent for Abbott here. Have a look at the election manifesto for which Tony will be seeking national support.

Higher university fees, lower pensions, more costly healthcare, dearer petrol, total disregard for climate change and a total shutdown of any government bodies likely to advise him otherwise. And there are a host of other electoral nasties Tony has unveiled as he has stumbled through his first 15 months in office but which remained well hidden in the lead up to his election win.

After his promise-shattering budget this year, Tony would indeed prove himself a gambler if he thought he could retain electoral support by promising these things were no longer part of his program.

Once bitten …..



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