One term Tony loses his first state

Let’s face it, Tony Abbott not Dennis Napthine was just voted out after one term in Victoria. The question that really matters is why? Phillip Coorey of the AFR had a nice piece on the weekend offer:

As the political year draws to a close, Liberals are not panicking but they are scratching their heads as to how it all went wrong so quickly.

…For the Abbott government the culprit is the May budget, a document so laden with broken promises, surprises and excuses and, crucially, perceived as unfair, it has sent the government reeling in the polls and crippled its credibility. The impact has been more marked because, in opposition, Abbott had campaigned on trust more than anything else. He said the trust deficit, created by former prime minister Gillard’s broken promise on the carbon tax, was even larger than the fiscal deficit.

…The government blames Labor but the public sees Senate dysfunction, which always reflects on the government of the day. It was why the Coalition in opposition worked hard to render the hung parliament unworkable. It looked far worse than it actually was.

…While there is no panic inside the Coalition, there is panic among its traditional supporters – the inner-city conservative commentariat and elements of the business community. The reality-show politics of the past six years, in which leaders were booted at the first sign of trouble, has created a mentality that some find hard to shed.

…Columnists who would throw themselves under a bus for the Liberal Party, such as Andrew Bolt and Janet Albrechtsen, have started to call for drastic action. Given these people generally reflect the views of the Liberal Party base, their collective cri de coeur is considered significant.

This summation goes to the heart of the problem for the Government without actually mentioning it. There may be a few performance issues with the personnel and the messaging (Abbott’s G20 effort was disastrous) but they disguise the real issue: the policies. In Victoria this amounted to the very poorly timed and unplanned killing of the car industry and the handling of the East-West tunnel of pork which clearly privileged interests and politics over evidence-based policy and national interest.

It’s not that Australia does not need Budget austerity and improving productivity via the shift of capital to more efficient industries and new infrastructure, it does, but the shaping of the Victorian policies was utterly divorced from Australian values and economic sense. The Budget hammered the vulnerable and households while leaving the fat cats and rentiers untouched. The East-West link was a classic example, with zero appropriate scrutiny and the rush to sign contracts pre-election an obvious attempt to blackmail the electorate, compounded by Tony Abbott’s bizarre threat to withdraw funding if the state voted Labor. Likewise, killing the car sector just as the mining boom goes bust was a weird convulsion of ideology over pragmatism. Both are extreme pandering to the Liberal base.

As every kindergarten political advisor outside of Holt Street knows, no sustainable government can rule from the lunatic fringe of either party, you must rule from the centre. The senate may be loaded against the Government but the real cause of its conflict is the Liberal’s Tea Party dogma.

To make the point more fully, consider that the Coorey article politely ignores the issue that is very likely to be defining for the next Federal election. By the end of next year it is probable that Australia will confront an ambitious international agenda on climate change, a big step towards a real attempt at the 450 scenario that aims to limit the global temperature rise to 2C.

The Abbott Government is so far short of any policy mix that can cope with that outcome that hilarity ensures. In fact, PM Abbott has signed a contract in blood that he will do nothing on abatement. By the end of 2016 and the next election, the international community will be bearing down on him with picks, shovels and torches lookin’ for a lynchin’.

Sure, the looniest of the Libs can pin their hopes on a Republican president setting back the climate agenda. The US Presidential election is a few days before our own. But boy, that’s one wild punt with Hillary the clear front-runner and will still make for a poor political optic at home given its putting politics ahead of alliance maintenance..

Across the board, the Government does not just need new personnel and comms, it needs new values – centrist, Australian, liberal ideals – these are all consistent with its current tenets of budget repair, ending entitlement and being open for business but they chart a very different path to that vision.

Nobody knows what Labor’s kingslayer stands for and the last thing the country needs is another victory by default for an opposition, but so long as the looniest of the Liberal backers drive the agenda for a leadership change, they are going to hand the country to him on a platter. Just like in Victoria.

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