Abbott has made the nation’s tough choices
TWO years ago today and by a margin of almost a million votes, Australians chose to reject Labor’s six years of infighting, backstabbing and navelgazing – and chose a prime minister promising a new era of “good government”.
The government they got has been a good one. It has been an administration with a solid core and a clear – and, generally, correct – direction.
But it has also been a government that has faced tough and often unfair criticism – painted by its critics as harsh or somehow out of touch.
Tough in some of its decisions it may have been. But what choice did it have considering that, in times of fiscal crisis, it inherited slack economic reins after its predecessor squandered a hardearned Budget surplus and racked up record debt? The Abbott Government has never been out of touch with economic reality. And rarely is a government thanked at the time for making the tough economic choices necessary for long-term fiscal health, but doing what is right rather than what is popular is the mark of a grown-up government of the type we never really saw during the Rudd and Gillard years.
In fact, this government’s biggest errors have been in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s style rather than substance. It has perhaps worked too hard on policy and not hard enough on politics. It has, for example, sometimes allowed its opponents to set the political and media agendas, and sometimes responded too slowly to “crises”. Mr Abbott has also occasionally allowed personal loyalty – in itself an admirable quality – to cloud his political judgment. The fallout of the Bronwyn Bishop “choppergate” affair is an example of both.
Like any first term government, the Abbott administration has endured a steep learning curve. But at the end of the day it’s far more important that Mr Abbott has learnt from his mistakes.
With an election at most a year away, the next six months are crucial for a Coalition that many feel is struggling to sell its very many and substantial achievements. From creating 200,000 jobs last year to abolishing the carbon and mining taxes, and from overseeing $20 billion in national road infrastructure to pioneering stringent anti-terrorism measures, it’s clear the Coalition has achieved the core mission of delivering a safer and more prosperous Australia. Add novel approaches to solving the social ills of ice addiction and domestic violence, and we see also a Coalition very much in touch with Australian problems.
It’s now up to Mr Abbott to remind voters of what Australia was like before his election, and just how far we’ve come in two years. His other challenge is not to be caught up in silly distractions, such crystal ball-gazing into a Canning by-election result that, because it cannot change the government, ultimately matters little.
Above all else, Australians look for leadership, consistency and a vision of sorts from their governments – and on all three measures, this government has achieved. Showy? No. Solid? Yes.
Mr Abbott must also remind voters of his talented frontbench. Ministers Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison, particularly, have impressed. And like all Cabinets late in their first terms, this is one that would benefit from a preelection freshening up to reward some of the smart younger MPs waiting in the wings and show voters what this team is capable of in coming years. On this, Mr Abbott would be well advised to not be hamstrung by loyalty.
As an alternative to Mr Abbott, Labor offers Bill Shorten – a man who has turned the job of alternative prime minister into a daily two-minute standup comedy routine; a man whose leadership to date has been a longer form of that famous line of his in early 2012 – “I haven’t seen what (Prime Minister Julia Gillard) said, but let me say I support what it is that she said” – except that these days it’s the union movement he unquestioningly backs.
Mr Shorten is the ultimate political opportunist, with the debacle over his stance on the China free-trade agreement just the latest example of his shameless approach to politics. Australians deserve so much better.