Tony Abbott this afternoon delivered the first of his major campaign speeches at the National Press Club (which is now available thankfully). The speech is a stark contrast to that of Gillard yesterday. It underlines why Tony Abbott is at once a powerful and limited politician.
The style of the speech is far less polished than that of the Prime Minister. It is a rambling inventory of ideas, uttered almost in list form, and unified only by a universal belief in lower taxes and the self-interest of every Australian. It lacks almost completely reference to the broader world and the “vision thing” that Mr Abbott’s media man so publicly asked for.
If nothing else, the delivery shows that Tony Abbott desperately needs a new speech writer.
Yet, Abbott is a very effective grass-roots politician. He is personable and when charging around on the campaign trail exhibits the kind of formidable lamington-baking bravado that Australian’s respond to.
He has, as it were, the common touch. Hence the busted-arse tone of this afternoon’s speech may not at all be a disadvantage. Indeed, tea-sipping intellectual wankers such as myself will underestimate this power at their peril.
Yet I can’t help feeling that the Coalition has a problem. Joe Hockey is delivering much more polished and cogent speeches than this. Having the vision in your Treasurer and the populism in your leader has succeeded before. Hawke and Keating come to mind. But having Hockey as the philosophical visionary and Abbott as the technocratic head-kicker seems dissonant to me, and perhaps to others as well.
Abbott’s lists are Howardism with a broken nose. He has muscled John Howard into a new era but it is clumsily transplanted. The platform of fiscal surpluses, economic liberalism but social conservatism and border protection suited the Howard period beautifully. It was internally consistent as the economic uncertainty of opening up to globalisation was offset by social continuity.
Now, a decade on, I’m not sure the world is the same for Australians. Climate is a big issue. The failings of the global economy is a big issue. National development and equity vis-a-vis mining is a big issue. Abbott fist-full of Howard snapshots do not have the power of his predecessor nor of Hockey’s vision for a streamlined, innovative and less entitled nation.
At the macro-economic level, the speech is nothing new. Abbott is keen to fight this battle on clearly defined grounds:
- We’ll abolish the carbon tax – because it’s the quickest way to reduce power prices.
- We’ll abolish the mining tax – because it’s the quickest way to boost investment and jobs.
- And we’ll cut red tape costs by at least $1 billion a year – to give small business a much-needed break.
- By restoring the jobs growth of the Howard government, there’ll be two million more jobs over a decade.
- There’ll be border protection policies that have been proven to stop the boats.
- And there’ll be revitalised work for the dole.
- There’ll be a swift start on Melbourne’s East-West link, on Sydney’s WestConnex and on Brisbane’s Gateway motorway upgrade.
- And the Pacific Highway will finally be duplicated well within this decade.
- We’ll reduce emissions by planting more trees, delivering better soils and using smarter technology rather than a carbon tax that just sends our jobs overseas.
- There’ll be a one-stop-shop for faster environmental approvals.
- There’ll be a fully restored tough cop on the beat, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, to deliver $5 billion a year in productivity improvements.
- There’ll be the same penalties for union officials and company officers who commit the same offence.
- There’ll be schools and hospitals run by community leaders, not by distant bureaucrats, so they’re more responsive to the parents and patients they serve.
- There’ll be a new Colombo Plan that’s a two way street between Australia and our region sending our best and brightest to study in the region and bringing their best here.
- There’ll be a comprehensive review of childcare so it’s more responsive to the 24/7 needs of today’s working families.
- There will be no unexpected changes that are detrimental to people’s superannuation.
- There will be no further reductions in defence spending – that’s already fallen to the lowest level, as a percentage of GDP, since 1938.
- And we will protect spending on medical research where Australia’s talented scientists give us such a comparative advantage.
HOPE. REWARD. OPPORTUNITY.I want to begin by acknowledging all the communities devastated by fire and flood this dangerous summer.Our thoughts and prayers are with them.Here in Canberra, we must never forget that our task is to serve the Australian people.The political battles we have to fight are but a means to that end.Almost every day for the past two years, my colleagues and I have been listening to you, the Australian people.You’ve told us about your lives, your families and your hopes for the future.Since the last election, I’ve visited 215 businesses, I’ve held 43 community forums, and I’ve hosted 33 local morning teas.My senior colleagues have done many more.It’s clear to us what you, our fellow Australians, want:· you want less pressure on your cost of living;· you want more job security;· you want our borders under control;· you want stability and certainty returned to decision-making; and· you want leaders you can trust.Our plans for a better Australia are our response to you.The carbon tax will be gone – so power prices will fall.The mining tax will be gone – so investment and jobs will increase.The boats will be stopped – because what’s been done before can be done again.And the budget will be back in the black – so government has the resources to deliver the services that are really needed.Our vision for Australia is about you.Our ambition is for more empowered, more capable citizens – rather than bigger, more interfering government.This is the golden thread that runs through all our policy commitments.Lower taxes, less red tape, more opportunities for work and more responsive schools and hospitals reflect our trust in the Australian people to know what’s right for them.Government is important – my colleagues and I are in the parliament because it matters and because we care about our country – but, in a democracy, the people must come first.My colleagues and I want to reach out to all the decent people of our country to reassure you that government can have your best interests at heart – rather than just its own survival.· We respect the commitment that working people bring to each job.· We know Australian families’ struggle just to make ends meet.· We honour the contribution that older people have made to our country’s strengths.· We admire the way that small business people will mortgage a home to serve customers and employ staff.· We understand that farmers are the original conservationists.· And we are proud of the migrants who come here, from the four corners of the earth, not to change our way of life but to share it.As Australians, each of you has a right to elected leaders who are straight with you and who don’t waste your money.Before the last election, the government promised that it would deliver a budget surplus but no carbon tax.In fact, it’s delivered a carbon tax but no budget surplus.So my pledge to you is that I won’t say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards because fibbing your way into office is what’s brought our public life into disrepute.Should the Liberal and National parties win the next election, we will restore the hope, reward and opportunity that ought to be every Australian’s birthright.It all starts with a strong economy.A more productive and more competitive economy means more prosperity for everyone to share.The Coalition understands that it’s the hard work of ordinary people, not government, that generates wealth.Government’s job is to make it easier, not harder, for business to be more productive.The Coalition understands that every dollar that government spends is a dollar taken from you in taxes today or two dollars taken from our children in a few years’ time when the debt has to be repaid.That’s why government has to be as careful with its spending as you are with yours – and why government has to be as keen to boost national income as you are to boost family income.For this government, though, the solution to every problem is more spending, more taxing and more borrowing – even though you can never cure too much debt and deficit with yet more debt and deficit.As every family knows, it can’t be Christmas forever.Eventually, February comes and the credit card has to be paid off.A stronger economy is not an end in itself – but it is the necessary foundation for the better services, stronger borders, cleaner environment and modern infrastructure that everyone wants.So Australia’s challenge is to realise our economic potential so that we can all enjoy the benefits that prosperity brings.Two budgets ago, the government promised to deliver half a million more jobs within two years.It’s achieved less than a third of that with just three months to go.Since 2007, GDP per person has grown at only one third of the rate achieved under the Howard government, which now seems like a lost golden age of prosperity.Australia’s multi-factor productivity has actually declined by three per cent over the last five years.People are saving at levels not seen in 20 years because no one trusts this government to save and few believe its claims that the economy is in good shape.In 2004-5, with unemployment at about five per cent, the Howard government delivered a surplus of one and half per cent of GDP despite terms of trade almost 40 per cent lower – yes, lower – than last year when the Gillard government delivered a deficit – a deficit – of three per cent of GDP.The Prime Minister was right when she said that “you can’t run this country if you can’t manage its budget”.So when the Treasurer finally admitted that his “come hell or high water” surplus wouldn’t happen, the government branded itself an economic failure.Unlike this government, the Coalition can deliver a stronger economy because we understand that governments have to live within their means.It’s in our DNA – as the record shows.The Coalition’s last eleven budgets delivered ten surpluses.This year’s deficit will be Labor’s eleventh in a row.The Coalition can keep government spending in check because we’re not beholden to the Greens.And we can make the economy more productive because we’re not dependent on the unions.Let’s be clear.The coming election will be a referendum on the carbon tax.Above all, it will be a referendum on economic management because stronger economic growth is what government has to deliver.Here at the Press Club 12 months ago, I outlined the Coalition’s plan for a stronger and more prosperous economy, and a safe and secure Australia.In a series of landmark speeches – published as a book you can download called A Stronger Australia – I’ve presented the Coalition’s positive plans for a stronger economy, stronger communities, stronger borders, a cleaner environment and modern infrastructure.So far, the Coalition has made literally dozens of big policy commitments:· We’ll abolish the carbon tax – because it’s the quickest way to reduce power prices.· We’ll abolish the mining tax – because it’s the quickest way to boost investment and jobs.· And we’ll cut red tape costs by at least $1 billion a year – to give small business a much-needed break.· By restoring the jobs growth of the Howard government, there’ll be two million more jobs over a decade.· There’ll be border protection policies that have been proven to stop the boats.· And there’ll be revitalised work for the dole.· There’ll be a swift start on Melbourne’s East-West link, on Sydney’s WestConnex and on Brisbane’s Gateway motorway upgrade.· And the Pacific Highway will finally be duplicated well within this decade.· We’ll reduce emissions by planting more trees, delivering better soils and using smarter technology rather than a carbon tax that just sends our jobs overseas.· There’ll be a one-stop-shop for faster environmental approvals.· There’ll be a fully restored tough cop on the beat, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, to deliver $5 billion a year in productivity improvements.· There’ll be the same penalties for union officials and company officers who commit the same offence.· There’ll be schools and hospitals run by community leaders, not by distant bureaucrats, so they’re more responsive to the parents and patients they serve.· There’ll be a new Colombo Plan that’s a two way street between Australia and our region sending our best and brightest to study in the region and bringing their best here.· There’ll be a comprehensive review of childcare so it’s more responsive to the 24/7 needs of today’s working families.· There will be no unexpected changes that are detrimental to people’s superannuation.· There will be no further reductions in defence spending – that’s already fallen to the lowest level, as a percentage of GDP, since 1938.· And we will protect spending on medical research where Australia’s talented scientists give us such a comparative advantage.These are all commitments that we’ve already made and that you can trust me to keep.Our first commitment is to repeal the carbon tax.The Prime Minister says that it will never happen but I’m not like her and don’t operate by her standards.Laws that one parliament has passed, the next parliament can repeal.When I say “there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”, I am telling the truth.All along, the Coalition has been following a three year plan.· Year one was for articulating our values.· Year two was for making policy commitments.· And year three is for releasing specific policies in the run up to the election.The government thinks that by announcing September 14 as polling day, it can force the Coalition to announce all our policy detail now.The Coalition will release our costings after the government releases theirs – after the Budget and before polling day.It won’t be easy to find the savings to fund tax cuts without a carbon tax but we won’t shirk the hard decisions, such as being up front with people that the school kids’ bonus will go – because it’s a cash splash with borrowed money that has nothing to do with education.Between now and polling day, we will be constantly developing our policy commitments so that you know exactly what will happen should the government change.On broadband, I’ve often said that the Coalition will deliver higher speeds sooner and more affordably than Labor’s nationalised monopoly NBN.We’re committed to super high speed broadband that’s affordable for everyone and built sooner rather than later.But with so many competing priorities, the last thing Australians need is another $50 billion plus in borrowed money to deliver higher speeds – but only in a decade’s time and at about triple the current monthly price.We won’t throw good money after bad but we won’t dismantle what’s been built.Our fibre-to-the-node plan will deliver superfast broadband for a fraction of the price and in a fraction of the time required to deliver fibre to the front door.And Malcolm Turnbull is the right person to give Australians a 21st Century network because he is one of Australia’s internet pioneers.On workplace relations, I’ve often said that our policy will address the flexibility, militancy and productivity problems arising from the Fair Work Act – and it will.As my personal history shows, I’ve never been anti-union.I support unions that are honestly managed and genuinely focussed on a fair deal for their members.That’s why a big part of the Coalition’s workplace policy will be tackling the rorts we’ve seen in the Health Services Union and the Australian Workers Union.These are the sorts of measures that a less-compromised Labor government could introduce and that decent Labor people would support.I have never believed that Australian workers are overpaid and will never begrudge the decent working people of our country a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.That’s why our workplace policy will ensure that changes have to benefit a business’s workers as well as its owners, managers and customers – because you can’t have a successful business without motivated workers.I want the best possible life for my three daughters, as we all do for our children.I want it to be easier for them than it was for Margie to have a family and to keep a career.For decades, a fair-dinkum paid parental leave scheme has been a Holy Grail of the women’s movement.On this subject, I have a convert’s zeal and am determined to be the prime minister who finally delivers justice to the parents and families of Australia.I deeply respect women’s choices, including the choice to work entirely in the home, but the reality – for the overwhelming majority of families – is that they need more than just one income to get by.So, like sick leave and annual leave, paid parental leave must be a workplace entitlement, not a welfare one, paid at a workers’ real wage.There are only two countries in the world that don’t base their parental leave schemes on people’s actual pay – and Australia is one of them.That’s why the Coalition will replace Labor’s half-baked scheme with a fair dinkum one and complete this historic change.The Coalition understands that new spending programmes are the social dividend of a strong economy, not a weak one.The Coalition is so committed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, for instance, that we’ve offered to co-chair a bi-partisan parliamentary committee so that support for it doesn’t flag across the three terms of parliament and among the nine different governments needed to make it work.We support better services for people with disabilities – and we support better schools – for their own sake, not to embarrass the states or to wedge the other side.But you can’t sustainably deliver new services on borrowed money.That’s why the party you can trust to deliver better services is the one you can trust to deliver a stronger economy and a sustainable surplus – especially as we understand the difference between spending money and actually getting an outcome.The Coalition’s record in government is turning a $10 billion budget black hole into consistent one per cent of GDP surpluses and turning $96 billion of net Commonwealth debt into $70 billion of net Commonwealth assets.Labor’s record is turning a $20 billion surplus into the four biggest deficits in history and running up a debt that’s now costing $7 billion a year just to service.My record as a minister was the Medicare safety net, the Medicare dental scheme, doubled funding for medical research, massively expanded work for the dole, the Job Network, the Cole Royal Commission into industrial thuggery and the Green Corps environmental trainees’ scheme.The current government’s record is five wasted years of:· pink batts that caught fire in people’s roofs,· ludicrously over-priced school halls,· an education revolution that sent education outcomes backwards,· stimulus cheques sent to dead people,· an export cattle industry shut down because of a TV programme,· the biggest infrastructure project in our history started without a cost-benefit analysis,· a mining tax that jeopardises investment without actually raising any revenue,· an Australia Day riot orchestrated out of the prime minister’s office,· a “captain’s pick”, Peter Slipper for speaker, and· more than 30,000 illegal boat arrivals compared with just 150 in the previous five years.It’s no wonder this government prefers to attack others than to defend its own record.And when this government claims that it’s attacking “middle class welfare”, it’s just attacking the middle class – because the family tax benefit and the private health insurance rebate are tax justice for families, not handouts.The Coalition supports every Australian who’s working hard to get ahead.With the best will in the world, governments sometimes make mistakes.With the best advice in the world, governments sometimes call it wrong.But no decent government should ever deliberately set out to divide Australians.That’s not what public life should be about.To represent 100,000 Australians as a Member of the House of Representatives is an extraordinary honour.To lead a political party, to be the guardian of its traditions and ideals, to be the standard bearer for the hopes and aspirations of millions of Australians is close to being the greatest privilege anyone can have.Warren Truss, Julie Bishop, Joe Hockey and I – all my senior colleagues – are determined to be worthy of the honour that we have been given.The election is not about who lives in the Lodge.It’s about our country.The election should be about forming a government that respects people, even those who aren’t political supporters.It should be about choosing a prime minister who understands that the job is to be a national leader rather than just a tribal chief.As a cabinet minister for seven years and leader of the House of Representatives for six, I have a fairly typical politician’s resume.Along the way, though, I’ve been a concrete plant manager as well as a Rhodes Scholar; a footy coach as well as a journalist; a nipper parent as well as a political adviser.Margie has run Girl Guide groups, served on the local school committee, been a talking book instructor, and now she runs a community-based childcare centre.I cherish my time on patrol with the Queenscliff surf club and with the local brigade – not just for the community service – but because working with people without a political agenda helps to keep politicians grounded in the real world.It makes them more effective MPs and national leaders.As a cabinet minister, I often noticed how the public servants who were making the rules very rarely had to live under those rules themselves.Treasury officials weren’t in business.Health officials never had to treat patients.Education officials didn’t run schools.Of course, they were conscientiously doing their best but there was often a gulf between their thinking and that of the people whose lives they shaped.That’s why I’ve tried to spend serious time in Aboriginal communities rather than rely on flying visits.It’s why I’ve tried to be useful in remote communities as a teacher’s aide and builder’s assistant rather than just a glorified tourist from Canberra.This won’t stop should the Coalition win the election.Security might make it a little harder but prime ministers should rarely need to be protected from the Australian people and certainly shouldn’t be insulated from the occasional ear-bashing from concerned citizens.After all, each one of them cares about our country, no less than I do, and every citizen deserves a say in a democracy such as ours.One of the reasons why I’m proud to be a Liberal is because our party is so representative of the diversity of the Australian people.Our new parliamentary candidates include teachers, farmers, builders, lawyers, public servants, doctors, nurses, small business people and former soldiers.One runs a multi-cultural youth service and another, a children’s charity.There’s a former Australian Father of the Year.If all of them were elected, the most common surname in the Liberal party room would be Nguyen.We would be a much stronger country if our government better reflected our people and their strengths.We are a great country and a great people let down by a poor government.That’s what really has to change – and now the date has been set.I’m ready for the election.The Coalition is ready.Australia is ready.We’ve had the faceless men choose the prime minister.We’ve had the country independents and the Greens choose the prime minister.Now, it’s time for you, the Australian people, to choose your prime minister – and the team to take Australia forward.The choice has rarely been clearer or meant more for the future of our country.