Tony Abbott has paid the price for Hockey’s budgets. The Medicare co-payment was a disaster of unparalleled proportions. To think that you could impose costs on poor families with kids while spending the proceeds on some new-fangled, pie-in-the-sky medical research was so inane that it must have been deliberately designed to inflict self-harm. Only some kind of deep psychosis could account for it.
Equally, that same psychosis must have been working overtime to promote changed indexation arrangements which would progressively erode the value of aged-pensions against community standards. Votes were lost. Now I don’t know, but I suspect it’s easier to lose a vote than get it back.
Okay, the second budget reversed these inane policy proposals. Noticeable absent, however, were the mea culpas that should have accompanied these reversals. Instead, lectures were given on the need to find replacement saving measures.
One of those replacement measures, orchestrated by Scott Morrison, the new likely Treasurer, was to hit those receiving part-pensions — all 327,000 of them, who have saved significant nest eggs, and who, without much doubt, predominantly voted for the Coalition. Incredibly, these were the people identified as ripe for plucking.
What a complete blunder. And it remains on the books as a ticking electoral time bomb. The elevation of Malcolm Turnbull will do nothing to defuse it.
Mr Turnbull must reverse this iniquitous attack on Coalition voters and, in his best collegiate manner, apologise for ever being part of a government which brought it in. If he does, he has some chance, at least, of attracting a sizeable proportion of the almost half a million votes lost since the last election. But, this will be no shoo-in whatever he does.
There is a good chance he will be facing Chris Bowen, rather than the hapless Bill Shorten, and that will be a far harder contest. Forget about Turnbull’s apparent popularity over Abbott. That was among Labor voters, who will proceed to cast their ballots for Labor, but with less enmity in the hearts for Turnbull than they would have had for Abbott. The fact that some voters find Turnbull more palatable than his predecessor won’t change a thing.
It is clear that electoral allegiances are more volatile these days than in the past. This ups the ante for retaining your normally rusted-on supporters. It should be remembered that the Abbott government had lots of successes.
It did stop the boats, it got rid of the carbon and mining taxes, it completed three important free-trade agreements, it was tackling the problems of red and green tape, it was appropriately strong on national security and – lost in the accusations of a having a poor economic performance – it presided over a creditable two-percent growth in employment over the past year, despite the economic turmoil cause by China’s economic difficulties. Oh, what the Europeans would give for that!
None of this proved sufficient. Turnbull will have to do better, apparently. Well, it is simply not possible. Once the initial optimism has faded those intractable budgetary problems will remain, as will the politically unpalatable need to cut benefits. In these circumstances, he will have to look to sectional interests. He will need to attract back traditional Coalition voters by ensuring they are not uniquely disadvantaged. Surely that is not rocket science – though it seemed to be for Hockey and Morrison. And, it must be said, Abbott was in charge and let it pass.
Nevertheless, a strong leader and thoroughly decent man was ill-served and, in the end, treacherously undermined. It is funny (strange) that the coup did not await the results of the Canning by-election. I heard Cory Bernardi say that the internal polling showed a strong Liberal victory in the offing and that was why the plotters had to bring on the coup quickly. If this is true, what an indictment it would be of Turnbull and those around him. Will that matter to the electorate? Probably not; only the hip pocket counts for much and Turnbull will optimise his chances if he remembers that.