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December 16th 2013 print

Richard Martin

…And Some Tough Talk, Too

Yes, Tony Abbott is a better PM than his two immediate predecessors, but that doesn't mean he is the leader Australia needs. Is there an alternative in the wings, someone who appreciates that big government is bad government?

failWho will replace Tony Abbott? It is now quite apparent that the Abbott Government will be a continual disappointment.  Is it that those of us who remember the Fraser years are experiencing a dash of déjà vu?  Fraser was supposedly a mean-spirited conservative but was, in fact, just another socialist statist.  His governments achieved little or nothing. The subsequent Hawke government brought in a range of economic reforms that broke with Australia’s post-WW2 socialist past.

Thus it is with our present government, which has chosen to operate as a caretaker Labor administration until the real Laborites are returned to power. All the signs were there prior to the September election. Now it is politic to go back to those signs and examine their portent.

Abbott won’t change.  Which means that all the conservative side of politics can do is change its leader.  And the sooner that is done the less time and national treasure will be wasted. All that is wrong with Abbott can be found in his signature maternity-leave scheme. The Australian’s economic affairs columnist, Judith Sloan, recently listed ten reasons why she found the Abbott scheme objectionable.

Here are six more:

1.   Abbott concocted his parent-leave scheme, costing $5 billion annually, without consulting his parliamentary colleagues or the wider Liberal Party.  What does this mean?  It means that he either holds his colleagues and his party in contempt or places little value on either.  Of course leaders should be allowed some discretion, but $5 billion is too much of a costly indulgence for one man’s whim.

2.   He chose to announce his scheme on International Women’s Day. The reason for that timing, and for the scheme itself, was that Abbott had become “spooked” by Labor’s ongoing campaign alleging he was a woman-hater.  So he set out to prove that campaign wrong with a lavish flow of the public’s money.  This may well explain why Labor and the media hold the Abbott Government in such contempt. They were able to spook him so easily once and so expect to do so again.  The media and the left have his measure.  The basis of the Abbott scheme is a screwed-up feminist world view in which a woman is judged solely by her income.

3.   All taxes lower economic activity and the effect has been quantified.  IMF research has found that a one percent tax increase reduces GDP by 1.3 percent after two years.  Using that metric, the $5 billion raised for Abbott’s maternity-leave scheme will shrink the economy by $6.5 billion. Is Abbott ignorant of such basic economic facts or is it that he just does not care?

4.   The scheme is to be funded by taxing companies generating more than $5 million annually, with the loss of franking credits rubbing salt into the wound. This aspect reveals a basic “us and them” mentality in Abbott’s thinking.  It appears that he believes company profits are there for the taking.  He doesn’t see the shareholders, whose money he is taking. Or worse, he does see them, but gives them no mind because they  aren’t “his” people.

5.   Just as some companies are to be more equal than others, the Abbott scheme means that some newborn Australians are to be more equal than others.  Compared to other mammals, humans are effectively born nine months premature.  It takes them nine months to stand up and walk – other animals can move about pretty well immediately.  Babies are thus a very labour-intensive “commodity”.  Some mothers want to be present during this period themselves while others are happy to employ a third party to meet an infant’s needs during a working day. Abbott’s scheme sets out to reward mothers who make the second choice. They and their babies are more equal than the mothers of the first choice. This is simply iniquitous.

6.   The Abbott scheme plays into the theme of the Obama administration’s Life of Julia campaign, the thrust of which is that women can go through life, produce children and suck on the teat of government, all along minus a male partner.  The family is the economic unit that produced the baby, not the mother alone.  If Abbott wanted to strengthen and reward families as much as he says he does, financial rewards for giving birth would be at the level of the taxable incomes of both parents, most equitably as a partial refund of past tax paid.  There is no point in rewarding people who bring children into the world without a taxable income. They will do it anyway.

Abbott himself warned of what he would be like.  In his 2008 book, Battlelines, he refers to an obituary he wrote a decade earlier for the founder of the National Civic Council, B.A.”Bob” Santamaria, where he claimed that theDemocratic Labor Party (DLP) is alive and well and living inside the Howard Government”. Perhaps Abbott is Australia’s first DLP Prime Minister.  He is a socially conservative socialist, not a conservative prepared to pay more than lip service to small and limited government and for individuals to keep the fruits of their own labour.

It will be hard to grasp the nettle and replace the man who led the Coalition to victory, but there is no prospect for improvement unbless that change is made.

Back to the question posed in the first paragraph:  Abbott’s replacement won’t come from the ranks of the Liberals, who have been with us since the time of the Howard government.  Abbott is the best that lot could produce, and he has fallen short.

The last two elections have injected some fresh blood.  Someone from that new cohort must be pressed into service.

Richard Martin is a Liberal supporter who wishes he could be more enthusiastic about the party he helped to elect