The Abbott government still has a discipline problem

Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott. Photo: Getty / File

What is going on inside the Abbott government?

Tony Abbott and his treasurer Joe Hockey appear at odds on at least two policy areas: taxes on tampons and the need for superannuation reform.

Abbott said just yesterday, after the idea came up on Monday’s Q&A, that the government wouldn’t be removing GST from women’s sanitary products. But Hockey has gone ahead and ordered Treasury to look into it anyway.

And while Hockey is right that the superannuation system is inevitably going to need some updating, the PM was careful to stress yesterday that changes to the tax breaks on super are off the table for now:

Well, what we said going into the election was that there would be no adverse changes to superannuation in this term of Parliament and that’s a commitment that we’ve kept and certainly intend to keep. I’ve said, and let me repeat it now, that we have no plans to change the superannuation system – no plans to change the superannuation system. I can’t give a commitment for forever, but certainly, there will be no adverse changes in this term of Parliament, we have no plans to make changes in subsequent terms of Parliament should we get them.

This week has also seen an extraordinary leak of cabinet’s deliberations on the plan to strip terrorist fighters of their Australian citizenship. “Ministers were angry that Mr Abbott and his office were apparently riding roughshod over the national security committee of the cabinet and the full cabinet,” the SMH reported.

There are clear echoes of the Abbott leadership challenge here: the theme of his office failing to consult was at the core of the challenge to his leadership in January.

The tampon disagreement and the cabinet split both serve to undermine the PM’s authority. While the opposition in cabinet of Attorney-General George Brandis to a specific element of the citizenship-stripping proposal that could render Australians stateless might not exactly be the talk of front bars around Australia, this is not reassuring for people who have been waiting for a semblance of certainty in political circles.

The budget got the government back in the public’s good books but the Coalition has quickly seen its business and national security agenda derailed into questions about tax on tampons.

Labor, perhaps sensing that internal policy division is a weakness for the government, has rushed to put same-sex marriage on the agenda following the Irish referendum on the issue last weekend.

As David Scutt explains here today, business spending in the non-mining sector has remained unexpectedly flat for years now, despite the repeated cuts in interest rates. The budget may have provided a filip to consumer spirits but dysfunction and a lack of policy clarity have also been a drag on confidence, which is now widely agreed to have been the missing ingredient in Australia’s post-mining-boom economic transition. The Coalition needs to get its act together.

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