The image of would-be Prime Minister Abbott as a hollow man, a lightweight on policy, and an economic dilettante would not have been diminished, let alone erased by his address in Canberra to the National Press Club of Australia: HOPE. REWARD. OPPORTUNITY.
at the end of January. Here’s why.
‘Hope’, ‘reward’ and ‘opportunity’ are fine sounding words, embracing as they do laudable concepts, worthy aspirations that most citizens would applaud.
Regrettably, Abbott’s use of these admirable goals perpetuates his superficial three-word slogan approach to politics. He and his minders know that such short snappy cascades will be memorable, even if policy-poor. As were his other three word slogans: ‘Stop the Taxes’, ‘Repay the Debt’ and ‘Stop the Boats’. They stuck in people’s mind. So we ought not to be surprised at a reprise of such Coalition sloganeering.
Let’s see then if there is any substantive underpinning of these aspirations as we read through the rest of his address. Not all of it can be reproduced below, as that would make the piece too long, but the full text is available via a link at the end. There you can assess the whole address yourself.
It should be acknowledged at the outset that this address was presented as Abbott’s and the Coalition’s view of the past, and their vision of the future under a Coalition government. So it would be unrealistic to expect it to be redolent with detail. Nevertheless it is not unreasonable to expect some hint of how the vision would become reality and how much it would cost. Readers will be disappointed at their almost complete absence.
Abbott’s speech is in italics. My comments/questions are in bold. ”Here in Canberra, we must never forget that our task is to serve the Australian people. The political battles we have to fight are but a means to that end.
“Almost every day for the past two years, my colleagues and I have been listening to you, the Australian people.
“You’ve told us about your lives, your families and your hopes for the future.
“Since the last election, I’ve visited 215 businesses, I’ve held 43 community forums, and I’ve hosted 33 local morning teas.
“My senior colleagues have done many more.
“It’s clear to us what you, our fellow Australians, want:
- you want less pressure on your cost of living;
- you want more job security;
- you want our borders under control;
- you want stability and certainty returned to decision-making; and
- you want leaders you can trust.” It would be hard to quibble with the first two 'wants' – they are motherhood statements. The last three will resonate with some, but they imply that our borders are not under control, that decision making now lacks certainty, and that trust in leaders is lacking – the first batch of Abbott’s barbs. He subtly introduces into his assessment of what the people want a condemnation of the present Government. So much for his stated intention to replace negativity with the positive Mr Abbott! He either can’t help himself, or his words are deliberate.
Let’s now take a look at the Abbott plans: “Our plans for a better Australia are our response to you. The carbon tax will be gone – so power prices will fall.” A promise easy to make, but problematic to implement. His theoretical assertion about falling prices will likely never eventuate. And of course he makes no mention of the negative effects on carbon pollution of removing the tax. Nor is there any mention of the removal of compensation. ”The mining tax will be gone – so investment and jobs will increase.” Again, a confident pledge that may never come about, and another assertion not founded on fact. In fact, since the mining tax was introduced investment and jobs have already increased – why will they now increase when it is stopped? No rationale is offered. ”The boats will be stopped – because what’s been done before, can be done again” Here again the assumption, one that the Coalition has made for ages, is that reintroduction of the Howard three-headed routine will have the same effect as it is believed it did a decade ago. No evidence is offered; we are expected simply to swallow this because of its superficial plausibility. ”And the budget will be back in the black – so government has the resources to deliver the services that are really needed.” There it is: a confident assurance, without caveat, without qualification, without an explanation of how they will deliver their surpluses. Joe Hockey insists there will be a surplus in his first budget. ”Our vision for Australia is about you.
“Our ambition is for more empowered, more capable citizens – rather than bigger, more interfering government.
“This is the golden thread that runs through all our policy commitments.” These are bland, motherhood statements that anyone could make. They are devoid of buttressing facts and reasoning. They are nothing more than hollow statements, empty aspirations. There is no hint of how a Coalition government might empower citizens. ”Lower taxes, less red tape, more opportunities for work and more responsive schools and hospitals reflect our trust in the Australian people to know what’s right for them.” Make of that what you can, but don’t ask how taxes are to be lowered when all we have heard from Abbott is increased taxes, or how red tape will be lessened, or how more opportunities for work or more responsive schools and hospitals are to be had. We will have to wait patiently for that detail!
“Government is important – my colleagues and I are in the parliament because it matters and because we care about our country – but, in a democracy, the people must come first.
“My colleagues and I want to reach out to all the decent people of our country to reassure you that government can have your best interests at heart – rather than just its own survival.
· We respect the commitment that working people bring to each job.
· We know Australian families’ struggle just to make ends meet.
· We honour the contribution that older people have made to our country’s strengths.
· We admire the way that small business people will mortgage a home to serve customers and employ staff.
· We understand that farmers are the original conservationists.
· And we are proud of the migrants who come here, from the four corners of the earth, not to change our way of life but to share it.
Look at the assumptions underlying these persuasive statements: … best interests at heart – rather than just its own survival, implies that ‘survival’ is the only aim of the Gillard Government, and that it does not have the best interests of the people at heart. “Families struggle just to make ends meet”
. Do all families? Why not “some families…” As Australians, each of you has a right to elected leaders who are straight with you and who don’t waste your money. Of course, but the implication is that the Gillard Government is not ‘straight’ and wastes your money. So he gives some well worn examples: ”Before the last election, the government promised that it would deliver a budget surplus but no carbon tax. In fact, it’s delivered a carbon tax but no budget surplus.
So my pledge to you is that I won’t say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards because fibbing your way into office is what’s brought our public life into disrepute. Tony Abbott would never lie to the people, would he? “Should the Liberal and National parties win the next election, we will restore the hope, reward and opportunity that ought to be every Australian’s birthright.
“It all starts with a strong economy. A more productive and more competitive economy means more prosperity for everyone to share.
“The Coalition understands that it’s the hard work of ordinary people, not government, that generates wealth.
“Government’s job is to make it easier, not harder, for business to be more productive.
“The Coalition understands that every dollar that government spends is a dollar taken from you in taxes today or two dollars taken from our children in a few years’ time when the debt has to be repaid.
“That’s why government has to be as careful with its spending as you are with yours – and why government has to be as keen to boost national income as you are to boost family income." Here we have a repeat of the initial slogan and more motherhood statements, replete with thinly-disguised barbs. Then as night follows day, we have a set of negatives: “For this government, though, the solution to every problem is more spending, more taxing and more borrowing – even though you can never cure too much debt and deficit with yet more debt and deficit. As every family knows, it can’t be Christmas forever. Eventually, February comes and the credit card has to be paid off.
“A stronger economy is not an end in itself – but it is the necessary foundation for the better services, stronger borders, cleaner environment and modern infrastructure that everyone wants.
“So Australia’s challenge is to realise our economic potential so that we can all enjoy the benefits that prosperity brings.
“Two budgets ago, the government promised to deliver half a million more jobs within two years.
“It’s achieved less than a third of that with just three months to go.
“Since 2007, GDP per person has grown at only one third of the rate achieved under the Howard government, which now seems like a lost golden age of prosperity.
“Australia’s multi-factor productivity has actually declined by three per cent over the last five years.
“People are saving at levels not seen in 20 years because no one trusts this government to save and few believe its claims that the economy is in good shape.
“In 2004-5, with unemployment at about five per cent, the Howard government delivered a surplus of one and half per cent of GDP despite terms of trade almost 40 per cent lower – yes, lower – than last year when the Gillard government delivered a deficit – a deficit – of three per cent of GDP.
“The Prime Minister was right when she said that “you can’t run this country if you can’t manage its budget”. So when the Treasurer finally admitted that his “come hell or high water” surplus wouldn’t happen, the government branded itself an economic failure." Having slagged off the Government comprehensively, Abbott now indulges in self-adulation.
“Unlike this government, the Coalition can deliver a stronger economy because we understand that governments have to live within their means. It’s in our DNA – as the record shows.
“The Coalition’s last eleven budgets delivered ten surpluses.
“This year’s deficit will be Labor’s eleventh in a row.
“The Coalition can keep government spending in check because we’re not beholden to the Greens.
“And we can make the economy more productive because we’re not dependent on the unions.
“Let’s be clear. The coming election will be a referendum on the carbon tax. Above all, it will be a referendum on economic management because stronger economic growth is what government has to deliver." Coalition strategists have these chunks of boilerplate that they drop into Abbott’s addresses ad nauseam. We have heard them all before, endlessly. What follows is Abbott’s preamble to his plan. “Here at the Press Club 12 months ago, I outlined the Coalition’s plan for a stronger and more prosperous economy, and a safe and secure Australia… positive plans for a stronger economy, stronger communities, stronger borders, a cleaner environment and modern infrastructure.” Here, would you believe, is ‘the plan’: "So far, the Coalition has made literally dozens of big policy commitments:
- We’ll abolish the carbon tax – because it’s the quickest way to reduce power prices.
- We’ll abolish the mining tax – because it’s the quickest way to boost investment and jobs.
- And we’ll cut red tape costs by at least $1 billion a year – to give small business a much-needed break.
- By restoring the jobs growth of the Howard government, there’ll be two million more jobs over a decade.
- There’ll be border protection policies that have been proven to stop the boats.
- And there’ll be revitalised work for the dole.
- There’ll be a swift start on Melbourne’s East-West link, on Sydney’s WestConnex and on Brisbane’s Gateway motorway upgrade.
- And the Pacific Highway will finally be duplicated well within this decade.
- We’ll reduce emissions by planting more trees, delivering better soils and using smarter technology rather than a carbon tax that just sends our jobs overseas.
- There’ll be a one-stop-shop for faster environmental approvals.
- There’ll be a fully restored tough cop on the beat, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, to deliver $5 billion a year in productivity improvements.
- There’ll be the same penalties for union officials and company officers who commit the same offence.
- There’ll be schools and hospitals run by community leaders, not by distant bureaucrats, so they’re more responsive to the parents and patients they serve.
- There’ll be a new Colombo Plan that’s a two way street between Australia and our region sending our best and brightest to study in the region and bringing their best here.
- There’ll be a comprehensive review of childcare so it’s more responsive to the 24/7 needs of today’s working families.
- There will be no unexpected changes that are detrimental to people’s superannuation.
- There will be no further reductions in defence spending – that’s already fallen to the lowest level, as a percentage of GDP, since 1938.
- And we will protect spending on medical research where Australia’s talented scientists give us such a comparative advantage.
“These are all commitments that we’ve already made and that you can trust me to keep.” On and on it goes – lots of grand promises, several using words we heard earlier in the speech, but nowhere any sign of how it will achieve any of them or what it will cost. Look through the list again. See if you can see anything but aspirations. See if you can see any genuine plans, see if you can detect any how, when, where, and at what cost. “…The government thinks that by announcing September 14 as polling day, it can force the Coalition to announce all our policy detail now. The Coalition will release our costings after the government releases theirs – after the Budget and before polling day. It won’t be easy to find the savings to fund tax cuts without a carbon tax but we won’t shirk the hard decisions, such as being up front with people that the school kids’ bonus will go – because it’s a cash splash with borrowed money that has nothing to do with education. Between now and polling day, we will be constantly developing our policy commitments so that you know exactly what will happen should the government change.
“On broadband, I’ve often said that the Coalition will deliver higher speeds sooner and more affordably than Labor’s nationalised monopoly NBN. We’re committed to super high speed broadband that’s affordable for everyone and built sooner rather than later. But with so many competing priorities, the last thing Australians need is another $50 billion plus in borrowed money to deliver higher speeds – but only in a decade’s time and at about triple the current monthly price. We won’t throw good money after bad but we won’t dismantle what’s been built. Our fibre-to-the-node plan will deliver superfast broadband for a fraction of the price and in a fraction of the time required to deliver fibre to the front door.” All empty promises and hollow rhetoric, with no detail, no plans, no costings, no outcome measures – just empty words, and a few nasties thrown in to scare the less well off.
Reproducing the whole Abbott speech would take too much space, but if you want to check whether my assertions of hollowness, of empty rhetoric, are accurate, read the rest of the speech here. In my opinion it gets no better – there is just more of the same. If you can stomach reading it, he offers still more negativity and wallows in sickening self-aggrandisement. He ends with a flourish:
“ We are a great country and a great people let down by a poor government.
“That’s what really has to change – and now the date has been set. I’m ready for the election.” So is Julia Gillard. She has runs on the board with over 430 pieces of legislation already passed. She is doing, as well as promising, she plans and gets the job done; Abbott engages in hollow talk. And I suspect that this empty rhetoric will continue almost until polling day as Abbott hides, for fear that someone will discern his emptiness, probe his hollowness, and find holes in his costings, as usual.
Take your pick between an achiever who is getting things done, and a negator who knocks everything the Government does, promises wildly, but never reveals how he will deliver.
Compare the two National Press Club of Canberra speeches, given one day apart. Here is Julia Gillard’s address , and the video.
You will note a stark difference between her address and Tony Abbott’s. Her speech is loaded with facts and figures, plans and achievements. His is largely empty rhetoric, light on facts and plans, but redolent with high-sounding promises.
For another stark contrast with the Abbott address, look at what Barack Obama had to say on 13 February in his State of the Union address. Loaded with action plans, and should Congress fail to act, contingency plans to get things done. Action on climate change was a notable example of this.
While it might be argued that our Prime Minister’s address and President Obama’s address were delivered by serving leaders in power, and that it would be unreasonable to expect a would-be leader awaiting the reins of power to match the richness of the facts these leaders presented or the plans they offered and the financial backing they guaranteed, it IS reasonable to ask when the Leader of the Opposition, who will be begging us to elect him leader of the nation on 14 September, will give us more than motherhood statements and hollow talk, when he will reveal his detailed plans for delivering his many aspirations, and when he will account for how, when, where and at what cost he will deliver them.
He can’t keep fobbing us off indefinitely with more three word slogans, empty promises that have no substance, and walking away from the hard questions, while assuring us we will know all his plans and costings ‘in good time’ before the election, when we suspect from what he and Joe Hockey have said, that they will come out too late to digest.
We need to know, and it is up to our political media to prize this out of him very soon.
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