In early January, Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott left his summer holiday to fight bushfires near Nowra with his NSW Rural Fire Service brigade from Belrose on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
“I'm now on my way to Sydney to be on standby with my local fire brigade. Important to follow fire warnings and advice today,” Mr Abbott tweeted through his @TonyAbbottMHR Twitter account on 8 January.
The day before he had tweeted: “Good that the government has swiftly responded with assistance to victims of the bushfires in Tasmania #tasfires”.
But it was the 8 January tweet that led Federal Labor frontbencher, Brendan O’Connor, to re-tweet it with the addition of a “#standbystunt" tag.
The fact that someone in the government suggested he was grand standing was symptomatic of a government who’s focus was on the man and not the ball. It simply continued the government’s abusive personal attack on Abbott.
While O’Connor later apologised and deleted his tweet, one may ask why a Government Minister would do this. The answer is very simple.
The government is clearly concerned about its electoral position and they know that the Abbott locomotive is heading their way soon.
Contrary to their public statements, the government knows that confidence in the economy is continuing to fall, consumer spending is falling, the cost of living is rising, productivity has declined, unemployment is rising, investment is falling and those areas of the economy which had remained strong, such as mining, are also stalling.
Their re-election will hinge on them being able to reverse this or demonstrate that Abbott cannot do better.
The next Federal election will be held on September 14. Some might say “we can’t wait”.
The big question is can Tony Abbott win and what does he have to do to ensure the coalition does win, whenever the election is held?
The electorate appears so disillusioned with the government that Abbott may well win anyway. This is something he cannot simply rely on, and nor should he.
He needs to continue to demonstrate that he’s a credible alternative leader and that his shadow ministers are credible alternative ministers. Sixteen shadow ministers were ministers in the last Howard Government in 2007.
Abbott has an interesting mix of attributes. On one hand he gives the impression he’s a rather rough and tumble fellow, capable, articulate and somewhat sensitive to significant public issues. He can also be quite sensitive, accommodating and “a soft touch”.
It’s because of this rather rough looking exterior that may turn some people off, particularly some women. However, it is also this quality that will ultimately endear him to people.
Abbott has weathered a relentless attack and yet the Coalition remains ahead in public opinion polls. People now say well “where are your policies”. Abbott can argue that he has plenty of policies.
What he has to do is go out and educate the electorate that his policies are better than those that have put the country into the position that it is – lacking in confidence, people not spending, rising unemployment, rising costs, and a government on the nose.
So what are Abbott’s policies? The Coalition’s Shadow Minister for Finance and chairman of its policy development committee, Andrew Robb, wrote in January: “In my 30 years in and around politics I have never seen an Opposition in such strong shape on the policy front. It is true that the government's tenuous hold on office since the 2010 election motivated us to greatly accelerate our policy review and development process so as to be prepared for an early poll”.
“As a result, we have long possessed a comprehensive suite of policies in 49 areas, but much to the government's chagrin we are following our own timetable in releasing them, not Labor's,” Robb wrote.
“Extra time allows us to review, refine and enhance our menu of options, which includes several hundred individual policy initiatives… As well, it would be totally irresponsible for us to close the books on our budget and policy formulation with the election still … months away.
“Yet since the last election we have made some 55 policy announcements, including the outlining of substantive plans for a strong and prosperous economy, to drive productivity and to support the creation of one million jobs over five years.
“Tax reform will begin with the removal of the carbon and mining taxes, which are undermining growth and investment, damaging our reputation, making us less competitive and driving up cost of living. Treasury's own modelling shows the carbon tax will erode GDP with a cumulative loss of output of $32 billion by 2020 rising to a staggering $1 trillion by 2050, in 2010 dollars.
“We have also unveiled the most ambitious deregulation agenda seen in this country, including the streamlining of environmental approval processes to provide greater investment certainty as well as a commitment to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission to tackle union abuses in the building industry.
“Already there have also been substantive commitments on critical infrastructure spending and reform, including the development of a rolling 15-year national infrastructure plan.
“The full-scale commission of audit we will conduct, the first since 1996, will identify areas of waste and other poor quality government spending and will be fundamental to restoring the structural integrity of the budget.
“The government is constantly on the lookout for material it can misrepresent and distort to distract from its very real policy calamities; such as a mining tax that raises no money, its failures on border protection, carbon tax betrayal and over-reliance on debt.
“This explains the obsession with trying to goad us into the premature release of our entire policy program, including ridiculous calls for us to produce our full costings and savings measures, which started two years before the next election was even due. “If they can't get any traction misrepresenting our policies they have no qualms pinching them, as we have seen in the small business space, including elevating representation to cabinet level or the belated and humiliating embrace of offshore processing of boat arrivals, while other policies that resonate they pretend don't exist to starve them of oxygen.
“We have seen this with the $9.6bn in major road projects we have committed to and our determination to cut $1bn of red tape each year.
“In addition to the substantive policy announcements, such as measures to regain control of our borders, Tony Abbott has also outlined a range of other initiatives, including a new Colombo plan, an ambitious Asian languages program, which will see language studies for all pre-schoolers and a concerted effort to increase the numbers of Year 12 students studying a second language from 12 per cent to at least 40 per cent within a decade. This is fundamental if we are to fully capitalise on the opportunities that are emerging in the Asia-Pacific.
“The overarching objective of the Coalition is to promote growth as opposed to redistribution, and restoring confidence is a big part of that.
“The four guiding principles we are using in our policy development ensures our program both reflects Coalition values and presents a clear alternative to the government.”
The punters will get to decide whether this policy platform is for them on September 14 or before.
4. What must Tony Abbott and the Coalition do to win Government? John Wells