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Friday, 9 May 2014

Abbott unveiled, and we don't like what we see - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Abbott unveiled, and we don't like what we see - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Abbott unveiled, and we don't like what we see

Thu 8 May 2014, 3:18pm AEST

Tony Abbott is in trouble now, not
because of some misjudged promises he made just before the election, but
because he can no longer hide the reality of his vision for Australia,
writes Tim Dunlop.
Writing on The Drum earlier in the week, Annabel Crabb suggested
that many of the problems politicians create for themselves arise from a
certain level of desperation that becomes unavoidable during elections.

happens to political leaders in the final days of election campaigns.
If they are struggling, they get desperate. Even if they are winning,
they get desperate; driven mad by exhaustion and the paranoia that only
true exhaustion can bring, they doubt themselves, and in that slightly
unhinged frame of mind, they almost always go a little bit too far.
She therefore had a suggestion to deal with the matter:

the electronic advertising ban that kicks in on the last Wednesday of
every federal election campaign. Let's just ban them all from speaking
in the last week. It would be kinder for us, and for them.
a funny line, and no doubt meant as something of a throwaway, but it
glosses over something that we shouldn't gloss over, so let me spell it

The political problems the prime minister currently faces
with the looming Budget - problems of broken promises, of enacting
policies that he did not admit to before his party was elected to
government - are not something that have arisen because of last-minute
commitments made in the dying days of an election campaign.

The trouble Tony Abbott is having at the moment - which is reflected in falling approval ratings for himself and his party - has arisen because of a long-term commitment to a particular ideological point of view.

In other words, his problem is that it is getting harder for him to hide what he really wants to do to the country.

reason it has taken until now - almost eight months into his prime
ministership - for his agenda to become undeniable, should be obvious.

the period before the election, the media were so taken with the
"Juliar" meme, and the idea that Mr Abbott was the "greatest opposition
leader ever", that they more or less completely failed to extract from
him an honest account of what he intended to do once he was elected.

In fact, significant sections of the media not only failed to hold him to account, they positively led the cheer squad - they were the cheer squad - waving him into power.

although Mr Abbott didn't get much of a honeymoon period, he has
nonetheless been able to deflect attention from the nastier aspects of
his agenda.

As budget day has come closer, however, the lens has
been pulled tighter, and what is coming into focus is not pretty. It is
certainly not minor or last-minute. As Mr Abbott himself has said:

governments do very much want to place their stamp on the economic
policy of the country and that's exactly what we are doing ... That's a
very, very big change and we expect everyone in the system to be working
enthusiastically with us as we reshape our country.
There is shrewd political calculation behind all this and it goes something like this.

received wisdom is that Australian governments do not get turfed out
after one term. Therefore, the Government believes that it can wear the
pain of broken promises in its first Budget and still get across the
line in 2016.

A victory in 2016 then acts as an endorsement of
policies enacted in the first term. More importantly, the net effect
will be that the debate has been shifted in their favour, even if the
level of dissent rises. As I've noted elsewhere:

idea is ... to push policy discussion far to the right by giving
credibility to ideas like slashing the pension and dismantling Medicare,
so that, over the long term, they shift the centre of our politics (the
Overton window, if you like).

it is true that maybe only a few of the mooted changes will actually be
enacted in the upcoming Budget (as if that isn't bad enough), but in
the meantime, the debate is no longer whether we should do certain things (introduce a Medicare co-payment, cut the minimum wage) but by how much.

In this way, the once unthinkable becomes "common sense".
what is happening is not some last-minute stuff-up from the dying days
of the election campaign. What has emerged is the essence of the
ideological divide that drives all politics. It is politics.

Plenty of people have been saying
that the Commission of Audit and all the other "leaks" about the Budget
are really part of a clever plan to make things sound worse than they
will finally turn out to be.  

That may well be part of it, but the argument misses a bigger point.

doesn't matter how mild the Budget appears when it is finally released
next week, the attempts to destroy the pillars of egalitarian Australian
civilisation - universal health care, universal education, and a
minimum wage - are not going to stop.

The whole reason the
conservative parties exist is to enact precisely this agenda. If they
don't succeed today they will still be there tomorrow, or next week, or
next election or in 20 years pushing for the same changes. The people
who finance them will still be providing the funds, and certain think
tanks will still be there slopping on the paint of intellectual

So let's be clear. Tony Abbott is in trouble now, not because of some misjudged promises he made just before the election.  

is in trouble because he can no longer hide the reality of his vision
for Australia. The reason that's a problem is because most Australians
don't like what they are seeing.  

Tim Dunlop is the author of The New Front Page: New Media and the Rise of the Audience. You can follow him on Twitter. View his full profile here.

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