Flat White

Tony Abbott must return

1 March 2017

7:34 PM

1 March 2017

7:34 PM

If the country is to be saved from impending disaster, Tony Abbott, like General MacArthur must return. (This will probably be in some form of alliance or understanding with Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi).

This would be contrary to the determination of a hostile Liberal hard left. Prominent opponents in the ministry are Christopher Pyne, now actually demonstrating the loyalty a minister should either show his leader or offer his resignation, as well as Mathias Cormann, wheeled out ever so obviously as a former loyalist. Cormann says he cannot see any scenario for an Abbott return. But in November he solemnly assured the nation that at 19 per cent, the government would not be compromising further on its foolish and ill-backpacker tax. After an almost imperceptible delay, he did precisely that.

In these days where people across the world are coming to a  widespread realisation that much of what is beamed at them is ‘fake news’, one thing is absolutely clear. Reports that Abbott was sniping, undermining, backstabbing or attacking Turnbull are fake news. What he did was what any principled and thoughtful backbencher not only may properly do, it is precisely what they should do. This is to propose, publicly, solutions to the serious problems that confront the nation.

What Abbott declared was that the government should say to the people of Australia: ”We’ll cut the RET, to help with your power bills; we’ll cut immigration, to make housing more affordable; we’ll scrap the Human Rights Commission, to stop official bullying; we’ll stop all new spending, to end ripping off our grandkids; and we’ll reform the senate to have government, not gridlock.” He also said the government should stop being an ATM to the states and thus encourage reform in hospitals and in education where our standards have fallen below Kazakhstan’s. And referring to the scandalous $50 billion-plus deal to build at some distant time twelve antiquated submarines in South Australia,  Abbott made the obvious point that our armed forces are about protecting the country and not just creating jobs in Adelaide.

That a man of Abbott’s standing should not have said this, or whisper it behind closed doors, as some commentators suggest, is ridiculous. Worse, he would be abandoning his duty to the nation. We all know and worse, all the politicians know that what he said is absolutely true. In a country rich in natural resources, electricity prices are among the most expensive in the world. Again, on the most sparsely populated continent, we have some of the highest real estate prices in the world. Our schools are in serious decline.  All of these problems, and others too numerous to list here, have if not been created by politicians from the major parties, exacerbated by them.

The only real comeback Abbott’s critics have is that he didn’t do all these things when he was in government. But he points out that his government’s reduction of the Renewable Energy Target from 28 to 23 per cent was the best they could get through the Senate at the time. Since then, it has become obvious from the collapse of electricity supplies in South Australia that even this is too high. He admits that it is not even Labor’s  disastrous 50 per cent RET that is laying waste to industry, it is the Coalition’s.

Both the commentariat and the politicians, including those same politicians who were ministers in the Abbott government, are arguing what they know full well to be completely untrue, that an Australian prime minister is no different from a US  president for whom the cabinet is only advisory. The president is the government. Not so a prime minister. He is only first among equals: he can only try to persuade.  The final decision is the cabinet’s. The point is that the policies adopted by the Abbott government were the policies approved by the cabinet which included Turnbull, Pyne and Cormann. If they didn’t like them they could have resigned as Abbott and others did from the Turnbull Shadow cabinet in 2009.

We should also recall the atmosphere in which the Abbott cabinet operated, with Abbott feeling bound to compromise with the hard left who at the same time were treacherously undermining him by leaking and by plotting his downfall, led by the Group of Eight plus One.  There is no doubt that when he returns – and return he will – this will be a battle-hardened Abbott who now realises that going against his conservative instincts will in no way satiate the hard left or neutralise their treachery and self-interest.

However, there is one aspect of the Abbott plan which will not work. That is his proposal to revive the Howard plan to resolve Senate gridlock. This would be by way of a constitutional amendment to provide that in the case of conflict between the House and Senate there would be an alternative option to a double dissolution, a joint sitting.

Not only is this unlikely to succeed at a referendum ( it may even need the approval of the voters in all states), it is undesirable that it succeed. This is because such a change would not only apply when we have in place a good government and a recalcitrant Senate. It would also apply when we had a bad government and a Senate determined to restrain their excesses.  And from experience, we are much more likely to have a dud government.

There is another solution. And that is to make the politicians truly accountable, and accountable 24/7. This can be achieved through several measures. One would be legislative, requiring that the political parties, in return for the millions they receive from the taxpayers, the exemptions from electoral and privacy laws, their special status under the Constitution and having their names and logos on the ballot paper, should be required to be open transparent and democratic. There should be constitutional changes introducing recall elections and citizen-initiated referendums. To achieve this, what is needed is what was necessary to achieve  federation, an elected convention.

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