Warwick Elsche. I hope you know what you’re doing, Tony!

Jul 8, 2014

Rum has never been my drink; two wipe-outs in youth. One nip – very nice, two – too many, any more – dangerous – positively confusing.

I suppose it was surprising then that I chose it as my companion as, with another million Australians, I settled in to hear the policy speech which would oust a dysfunctional Labor Government and make a Prime Minister of robust, forthright, Tony Abbott.

Perhaps I should admit to a strong pro-Liberal partisanship; a particular admiration for Tony and the direct brand of politics he represents. It was this quality which had bought his Party to the point of certain accession to Government.

Though suddenly feeling woozy, light-headed and extremely vague (how many nips did I have), I remembered his firm undertaking that he would not be a PM who said one thing before an election and did the opposite once elected. Smart guy Tony – knows the damage he did to Gillard over the “lie” on the carbon tax. He won’t put himself in that position!

I vaguely remembered his promise to be a “Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs’. He would preserve all front line services. He might even spend the first week of his Prime Ministry with these people on a settlement in the north. What a caring guy! Aussies will love their new boss. (Through the haze I heard nothing about heading north for a week.) There were some promises however. His Government would axe the program helping to re-establish aboriginal offenders return to society on release from prison. Several other front line services would go too. Everyone had to do some heavy lifting to cure the mess that Labor had left and Aborigines would be no exception. $170 million, he said, would be taken from Aboriginal Health Services and some half a billion dollars would come from the aboriginal budget.

He confidently acknowledged his firm promise that there would be no cuts in Health and Education. But through the haze I heard him reveal that $80 billion would in fact be removed from their budgets. These were not broken promises, he said.

I am finding it a bit hard to follow him here. 

There would be no cuts to the popular media outlets – the ABC or SBS. Only $20 million would actually be taken from these organizations and there might be more to follow.

He said there would be no interference with Medicare, the cornerstone of Australian health services – except for the addition of a $7 co-payment for each doctor’s visit and a $5 surcharge on prescriptions from a chemist. These also, he said, are not broken promises.

In my confused state I think I am starting to get the message. Things are not really what they are; they are what Tony says they are. But will voters understand this?

He said Australia would become a more robust and individualistic country, standing boldly on our own. During the campaign our Foreign Minister to be, Julie Bishop, had roundly upset Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill by publicly misquoting him on the state of Australia’s future aid to his country. But this was only practice. Australia would go further – It would again unsettle Indonesia, it would bring a rare and embarrassing public rebuke from China and it would totally rupture relations with near-neighbour Timor-Leste. (Is this real or is it the rum messing with me? Am I confusing what he said with what happened afterwards?) We would in fact go further and offend and threaten trade with nearly thirty Arab countries by ignoring the UN, the International Court of Justice, the International Red Cross, and almost every country in the world, by insisting on our own terminology for Occupied East Jerusalem.

Listening to the banks, who have suddenly become enormously friendly – we’ll take away the protection Labor legislation gave to consumers in their dealings with them and their financial advisors.

Will this win votes Tony? Why are you telling them this? 

Students would not be left out when it came to heavy lifting. Uni fees would be allowed to rise – in some courses more than doubling.  And if any should, by chance, escape this burden, the interest rate on their HECS debt would be hiked.

The rich of course would do their share too. Income over $180,000 would be taxed at an additional 2%. Anyone earning $200,000, as most politicians do, will face a slug of $400 annually – a whole $8.00 a week.

At the other end of the scale, the unemployed would wait six months before they were eligible for any benefit and what benefits they get would be reduced. To get anything at all they would have to show they have applied for no fewer than forty jobs per month – ten applications per week. Their losses would come to something over $50.00 a week – nearly six times the impost on a $200,000 a year earner.

I hope you know what you are doing Tony telling them all this I think through my haze. 

Tony threw in for good measure the fact that the school kids bonus would go and they would get tougher with the child care rebate.

Tony said we knew his view on climate change and at last he would have the opportunity to do something about it. The carbon tax would go, but to ensure there was no internal opposition or attempts to advise the Government, a whole lot else would go with it. To show our independence from the experts, including UNESCO, Tony said, we will allow the dumping of millions of tons of dredge material on the Great Barrier Reef in North Queensland. We will reward the loggers, “the real conservationists”, by de-listing from the world heritage list 74,000 hectares of virgin forest in Tasmania. A robust government in a newly robust country will not be lectured on climate change by so-called experts! To remove any threat from that quarter we will take 500 jobs from the Environment Department and slash their funds. In fact we can do better. We will axe the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Climate Commission and the Australian Renewal Energy Authority. Just in case we have left anyone who would lecture us on the science of climate change, we will whip 500 jobs and $120 million off the CSIRO. In fact, for the first time in decades, he would scrap the whole science department altogether – but we will have a Ministry for Sport.

Again – is this smart Tony? I guess you know.

Pensioners, self-funded retirees and families will all lose much more than the annual $400 impost on high income earners.

This seemed to jolt me awake. Had I heard right or was the rum continuing to confuse me? I was worried, really worried. But Tony knows best and he did win didn’t he? Would Tony have won had he enunciated these policies?

We may yet find out.

Before the election Tony promised us a double dissolution if his program was frustrated. Since the victory his henchman, Joe Hockey, has been similarly hairy-chested on the subject of a double dissolution. Rum haze or not – we now know what his program for any double dissolution must be. I can only hope it will work for him. Or will he at last break a promise and walk away from his double dissolution undertaking?

Things are, after all, what Tony says they are. 

Warwick Elsche, freelance journalist.

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