An election weekend is a long time in politics.
The wipeout for the LNP in the Queensland election on Saturday, which nobody expected, has the Liberal party at a federal level seeing its political life flashing before it.
There are two lessons for the Coalition. First, voters are ready to punish tough-guy governments whose policies are seen to be unfair, as was the case with the Newman government’s deep cuts in the public service.
And second, no government is safe.
Liberal MPs are watching the primary vote at a federal level decline in poll after poll. Another this morning shows Labor with a crushing lead. The thinking amongst Tony Abbott’s internal opponents is now simply that if they don’t get rid of him, voters will do it.
And so we’re back here again, with the knives out for a first-term Prime Minister. Last week there was talk of his colleagues giving him six months to turn things around. But after the Queensland result foreign minister Julie Bishop and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull are now reportedly “assessing their options”.
In Abbott’s speech at the National Press Club in Canberra today, he’s expected to announce the dumping of his $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme, hated by conservatives for its largesse and questioned by many who previously supported it because of the extravagant cost that will drag on the budget bottom line. It will be replaced by some help for families with incentives to encourage more female workplace participation.
He’s also expected to announce a small business package and changes to how the Foreign Investment Review Board works, to try and attract more overseas investment.
But it’s difficult for voters to be confident that even agreeable plans can be delivered. This is partially because of the complexities of the Senate and the horse-trading necessary to pass legislation, but also due to Abbott’s proven willingness to go back on his word, evidence in the ABC budget cuts and the changes to education spending.
One of the major forces at work in the Australian economy at the moment is the fragile confidence among business and consumers in the absence of any evidence that the government can be trusted to get things done. Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox was on ABC Radio this morning saying that the current political uncertainty was damaging for business in a year where companies are staring down at another year of slow economic growth.
With that in mind it’s worth looking at some of what Abbott told the National Press Club in the final weeks of the 2013 election:
Only in emergencies will decisions not go to Cabinet because a serious country deserves an adult government.
As a member of a functioning Cabinet, I know that there are almost no decisions that aren’t improved by the contribution of colleagues who understand government and who have Australia’s best interests at heart.
That’s why a new government won’t just be different; it will be better, too.
Almost no one thinks that our country has been at its best over the past few years.
There’s been too much inconsistency, too much waste and too many unnecessary fights for that.
Elect the Coalition, and you will have a grown up, adult government that thinks before it acts.
My aim is to lead a no surprises, no excuses government that says what it means and does what it says.
Not two years later, surprises seem to be at the heart of Abbott’s style, and he’s under pressure for his failure to consult with colleagues.
Even if people do like what Abbott has to say today, they can be forgiven for wondering if any of it will ever happen.
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