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Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott’s address to the Menzies Research Centre

Tony Abbott 58%

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The last federal election to produce a “hung” parliament was in 1940. On that occasion, the incumbent government limped on but the prime minister of the day faced growing party dissent. The opposition, previously in disarray, looked increasingly like a credible alternative government. Eighteen months later, after a parliamentary vote of no confidence, the independents changed sides and the new government won a landslide at the next election, held at the normal time.

 

In her Chifley lecture on the weekend, the prime minister invoked this 1940 to 1943 parliament as one of Australia’s finest. One detail she failed to mention, though, was the mid-term baton change to a new government. Less surprising was the kinship she claimed with Ben Chifley himself given the resemblances between bank nationalisation and the current government’s National Broadband Network.

 

What matters, regardless of the state of the parliament, is the government’s preparedness to address the country’s problems. In this respect there’s a fundamental difference between the Gillard government and other governments (such as Bob Hawke’s in 1984 and John Howard’s in 1998) that lost seats in their first bid for re-election. Unlike the current one, those governments had embarked on culture-changing reforms in their first term. They weren’t poor governments that had been judged harshly but reforming governments that were prepared to risk a backlash against policies that they believed were right for Australia.

 

It’s possible that the Gillard government could follow the trajectory of Hawke or Howard rather than that of Sir Robert Menzies in 1940 but only if it changes its character. Symbolism aside, it’s hard to recall any big achievements from the current government’s first term. Australia avoided the worst impact of the global financial crisis but this owed far more to the reforms of previous governments than it did to the spending spree of the current one. If government spending really is the remedy to every downturn, the United States, to name only the most obvious example of a problematic stimulus package, would not be in so much economic trouble. Building overpriced school halls in a programme lasting as long as the First World War can hardly be credited with saving Australia from a financial crisis that the Reserve Bank governor thinks was only truly global for about six weeks.

 

It’s too early to declare that Julia Gillard will be a worse prime minister than Kevin Rudd but the government’s performance certainly went from bad to worse after it changed leaders and has deteriorated further in the four weeks since the election. The revised mining tax began to unravel almost as soon as it was announced and is now subject to the Greens veto. The East Timor asylum seeker processing centre will never be built because the prime minister neglected to ask the East Timorese before she made her announcement and it’s now been superseded by the new onshore processing centres that, during the campaign, she categorically denied would happen. The citizens’ assembly that she announced during the election has subsequently been dumped in favour of a parliamentary committee pre-programmed to support a carbon price, most likely the carbon tax that the prime minister also specifically ruled out during the campaign. The prime minister’s decision to execute her predecessor now seems like confirmation t. at she lacks judgment because the government almost lost the election in Queensland alone.

 

Read more: AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATIVE (21 September 2010)


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