Let me put my money where my mouth is and make this bold prediction. Tony Abbott can save his leadership of the Liberal Party, and his Prime Ministership. It is not too late. But he will need to change.
In a nutshell the problem thus far is that he has been yielding when he should have been unyielding and been unyielding when he should have been yielding. This YUUY disease did not come upon the man until after he became Prime Minister. In opposition he showed no traces of the disease.
Now of course to say that Mr Abbott has been struck down with a bad case of the YUUYs does not tell us which strain of the disease is afflicting him. If you listen to the ABC, or to overseas columnists such as Matthew Parris, you will be told that Mr Abbott’s problem is that he has been running a radically right wing government. He’s yielded to the right and not yielded to the supposedly moderate and more lefty side of political debate. Frankly, that is balderdash. Mr Abbott’s problem is exactly the opposite. What we have seen so far is a Labor-lite government, albeit incompetently administered.
But I certainly didn’t vote for a Labor-lite administration. I voted for a small government, free-speech favouring, right-of-centre team. And that has been nowhere to be seen. Try naming two conservative things this government has done, other than getting rid of the carbon tax and stopping the boats. Was the Paid Parental Leave scheme in any way a small government scheme concerned with limiting spending? You must be joking. The only political party remotely supportive of it was the Greens. When opposition to this boondoggle arose Mr Abbott was unyielding in his support of it.
Or what of spending restraint? In opposition Mr Abbott endlessly told us – correctly – that Australia has a spending problem not a revenue problem. Yet once in government he yielded to the big spending powers that be. He opted to raise taxes, pretending it was a temporary measure. And in return did he first ensure that the Senate passed any spending cutbacks? No. He yielded when he should have been unyielding about more taxing and spending.
Or take co-payment charges for doctor visits. Across the Tasman the charges can run to $17 a visit. If you come out and say we have a God-awful spending trajectory and must make savings, and worse that people need to see that going to the doctor is not a free good, you could make the case. It might be unpopular with some, but plenty of others would support you, just as they did in New Zealand.
Instead that message went out the window when the savings were funnelled into some medical research fund. Are you kidding me? We’re going to take this immense political pain to send a bunch of money to the huge, inefficient bureaucracies that run research in this country? Does anyone in government have the slightest idea how university bureaucracies run? Let me tell you. First, a hefty percentage is taken off the top and goes to the bureaucracy. Our university bureaucracies look overpaid and top-heavy compared to Canada, the US or the UK. Nor is it remotely plausible to think any of this money would be anything other than of marginal benefit in terms of the worldwide race to discover cures for anything.
Personally, as someone who works in a university, I was against the GP co-payment the minute it was going to some research fund. Again, to this flabby, big government-type patronage Mr Abbott was yielding instead of unyielding.
Then there is the flip side. On repeal of 18C, for which he had a huge political mandate, Mr Abbott yielded when he should have been unyielding. And where have the various lobby groups that make up ‘Team Australia’ been these last few weeks in supporting you Tony? Nowhere. They have been totally silent, because the truth is that they support Labor or prefer Mr Turnbull.
Had Mr Abbott put emasculation of 18C through the House and then to the Senate, no one would have blamed the government for the Bill not passing. Labor would be on the record as the anti-free speech party that it is. So would the loony Senate independents. But Mr Abbott yielded when he should have been unyielding. It is as though he deliberately wished to alienate his core supporters.
Yes, university deregulation is a good policy, but water it down enough and it isn’t worth doing. Meanwhile, there is much else that could be done on the university front. How about making all universities publish the percentage of bureaucrats to actual researching lecturers in the classroom? Or publish the top 25 salaries they pay, and whether the recipient is an administrator or an in class teacher and researcher? Compared to elsewhere we don’t look good on those fronts.
Then there’s this government’s insipid response to clear and undeniable bias at the ABC. It goes for some piss-weak 5 per cent cut that gets it as much vitriol from Ultimo headquarters as it would have got from a Canadian-style 10 per cent cut. And it does nothing about the fact that not a single, solitary presenter or producer of a big time current affairs TV show has a right of centre pedigree. As one British commentator recently put it, ‘The ABC leans so far left, it makes the BBC look like Fox News’.
Mr Abbott needs to win back his core supporters. He needs to start running a right of centre, small government operation. He needs to realise that basically nothing will be passed by this Senate. So what? Pass Bills through the House and then every day make it clear to voters who the only choice for spending restraint is at the next election.
Did I mention putting enervation of 18C to the House and making the Senate vote it down?
None of this is radical right-wingery when compared to Canada, to the UK, or even to New Zealand. Only in ABC ‘never vote Coalition la-la-land’ is it seen in such terms.
So it’s now or never Mr Abbott. Start yielding on all the big government idiocies and start being unyielding on all the pro-free speech, pro-small government things we all thought you stood for. You can still win the next election. Otherwise it will be Mr Turnbull – and I can get ready to cast a donkey vote for the second time in my life.
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