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November 12th 2014 print

James Allan

Time to Govern Right, Mr Abbott

A few suggestions that will better your chance of re-election: Drop that Labor-lite approach to attacking the deficit, stop funding your enemies and, on a related note, strip Malcolm Turnbull of responsibility for the ABC and let Scott Morrison muck out the national broadcaster's billion-dollar stable

abbott w bookAt some point the Coalition needs to realise that Labor will agree to nothing that it doesn’t already want to put in place.  “Compromise” for them will amount to allowing through what they would otherwise want, and nothing more.  So, to deal with our ballooning deficit, Labor will always agree to more taxes.  In fact it’s a bonus for them, as the Coalition will take the blame.

My take on this is summed up in the old saw:  ‘When you’re helping to dig your own grave, the best thing to do is stop digging.’   That means that no matter what the short-term consequences, Mr. Abbott and the Coalition need to stop with the tax increases.  No matter what.  I’m sick of them, and I’m pretty sure most readers of this site are sick of them.  And those tax hikes won’t do anything more than fiddle at the margins of our blowing-out debt and expanding deficit.

The Coalition ought to keep making the case for spending cuts.  Again, and again, and again.  If they can’t get those cuts through the Senate, well, the deficit will go up.  And it will keep going up until the next election.  Meantime, you bring all the resources of government to bear on educating the public.

Likewise, while you’re doing that you also stop pretending that you’re a Labor-lite government finding Mickey Mouse ways to increase taxes.  And you ditch any new massive spending commitments.  That is my very kind and nice way of saying ‘Get rid of the idiotic and incredibly expensive Paid Parental Leave (PPL) Scheme. For Labor, the PPL is the gift that keeps on giving. Labor has absolutely no ideas on how to cut spending.  So their only halfway-plausible reply is, ‘We will get rid of the PPL when we win the election.’

And I believe they will.  So does everyone.  This policy is one that will cost huge political capital to get through and then will go as soon as Labor’s next win.  Worse, my guess is that most Coalition voters – and all of those worried about our fiscal position as a country – want it ditched.  Now.

The other thing that this Coalition government might usefully do is to start taking on its critics.  By that I mean the groups whom they fund to attack them constantly.  The ABC most obviously springs to mind.   Mr. Turnbull has to go as the minister in charge of this billion-dollar-a-year vessel, a hopelessly port-canted ship whose crew looks uncannily like the Green Party at prayer – if you count Gaia-worshipping, carbon-tax genuflecting, hard-left dissembling as praying.

Here’s what I think would gain Mr. Abbott a lot of credit from Coalition voters who are, thus far into his term, somewhat disappointed at the way his right-of-centre instincts have been muted since coming to power: the Prime Minister should transfer the ABC to the ministerial portfolio of Scott Morrison.  Take it away from a favoured Q&A guest and give it to someone who recognises problems and doesn’t shy from solving them.

Were he to do that, I am betting ABC Managing Director Mark Scott would find the gumption to hire at least one right-of-centre person (host or producer) for at least one of the broadcaster’s big-ticket current affairs shows.

Why?  In my view it’s about psychology and in that sense a parallel with stopping the boats.  If you believe someone is committed to stopping you, and will do what it takes to change your behaviour, you submit.  That’s why the boats have stopped and why I don’t think any future Labor government will be able to mimic that success.

The same goes for the ABC. No one in that organisation has any real belief that Malcolm Turnbull will try to make them live up their statutory obligation to be impartial.  But bring in Mr. Morrison and the perception would change overnight.

On the other hand, Mr. Abbott can continue to travel the same road as Britain’s David Cameron, alienating   his core supporters with every latest step in the wrong direction.  It’s not working out at all well for Mr. Cameron.  So, Tony, please stop digging.

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland. His new book is Democracy in Decline