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Mar 9, 2010

Abbott overcompensates and big business pays the price

It's not a good idea to act as if your opponents are right. But Tony Abbott has decided he needs a big policy to fix his problem with women voters and his eggs are in the paid parental leave basket.

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It was December 2003, and new Labor leader and serial Bush Administration critic Mark Latham had just met with the US Ambassador.  To reassure voters that the leadership version of Mark Latham was different from the Latham who called George W. Bush “the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory”, he called a press conference in Parliament House, with his little-known foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd.

Just to make sure voters got the message, an enthusiastic staffer placed an American flag alongside an Australian flag behind Latham without consulting him  Afterward, Latham spent as much time defending the placement of the flag as he did discussing his views on the US alliance.

Whether you believe what your opponents are saying about you or not, it’s rarely wise to act as if they’re right. And it rarely convinces people anyway. Simon Crean devoted the first part of his leadership to trying to shrug off the Howard Government’s line that he was a trade union stooge by setting up a brawl with unions over ALP representation, which only served to make Labor look like it was self-obsessed. Weighed down by brawling over party machinery issues, Crean’s leadership never got off the ground.

Tony Abbott appears to have decided that his critics are right and he really does have a problem with women. And he’s over-compensated, like Latham and Crean did.

Worse, his over-compensation comes with a multi-billion dollar price tag to be paid by the Liberal Party’s core supporters.

There’s another failed Opposition Leader to throw into the comparison, as well.  Malcolm Turnbull was attacked by colleagues and lost support among the party’s base for, it was said, moving too far away from Liberal philosophy in a progressive direction. But that was on climate change. Abbott has walked away from a more central component of Liberal philosophy in backing higher taxes and bigger government.

What happened to the Liberal Party of keeping government small and taxes low?  Is there anyone left who believes in that? We know you had to keep a low profile during the Howard years, but where are you now?

Abbott has also cruelled what chance the Coalition might have had of successfully running a scare campaign on taxes. It’s only a matter of weeks since Abbott was promising no new taxes.  The bloke is developing a serious reputational problem for reversing himself.  It’s fair enough to reverse yourself over a number of years, as he’s done on the whole parental leave issue — it’s shows Abbott maturing both as a person and as a politician — but not over a number of weeks, especially not if your reversals have direct consequences for business.

Abbott has been doing well with a relentlessly negative posture toward the Government.  The first time he has moved into positive policy territory, he has stumbled.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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9 thoughts on “Abbott overcompensates and big business pays the price

  1. jack jones

    Funny thing about this particular announcement though is that its left labor looking particularly fake. So we have Tanya Plibersek, the face of left progressivism to some degree in the party, now having to argue effectively that a) women don’t deserve as much time as Abbot is giving them b) they don’t deserve as much compensation for parenting leave and c) poor big business shouldn’t be asked to pay because they might get grumpy. What a ridiculous state of politics we are in that its so easy to go to the left of a particularly conservative labor government. So what if big business gets grumpy, whatever happened to the wider national interest? Isn’t that what the Pliberseks of the world entered politics to try to further? Admittedly the fact that the Australian and others are totally soft soaping this from Abbot when they would have been shrieking from the rooftops should Plibersek or someone similar had launched it leaves one feeling ill. But really the main reason this policy is being criticised is because it risks reducing Abbots ‘economic credibility’, which seems to be code for ‘it will make big business a bit grumpy’. Really people, can’t we lift the tone of debate on this stuff rather than freaking out everytime some bunch of corporate spin doctors puts out a grumpy press release? So big business doesn’t like it? Good..lets stop making them the arbiters of any new policy credibility anyhow and get back to a discussion about whether its good for the country or not. Sheeesh..

  2. Liz45

    JACK JONES – Indeed! The fact is, that only the US and Australia in the western world don’t have paid maternity/paternity leave. There are many reasons apart from the bleeding obvious why mothers need time off with their newborn babies – there’s enough material around to read up on the obvious benefits – to everyone, including the country – this includes the economy. The more support families with new babies receive, the more chance of having loving, secure and capable people as adults – less money on crime, jails etc. We also need the babies to pay the taxes in 20 or so yrs time – we just need to sort out whether we want happy people or miserable ones with problems??

    I really don’t feel sorry for big businesses and their belly aching. ‘Sheesh’ they receive so many lerks and perks from all levels of government(read us) that they’ve been having al great time. eg. Under Howard, profits increased by 5% while wages went down by the same amount. There’s heaps of info to refer to.

    Why didn’t Abbott take a look at Britain, or France or Sweden or ?? even Bangladesh has paid maternity leave? Plenty of countries to research and learn from. But Abbott is a bloody idiot, among other things? ‘Common sense he don’t have!’

    I think the Libs have done their own polling, and found, that the majority of women can’t stand him – the thinking non-catholic ones anyway! Howard/Pell in the Lodge if Abbott gets in – no thank you! He supports paid maternity leave, but would bring back AWA’s and other awful aspects of WorstChoices which were particularly painful for women workers(plenty of research done on that too!).
    He’s proven that he can make outlandish promises, only changeing his mind after the election is over when he found out his maths were wrong – remember the Medicare rebate prior to the 2004 election? Set in stone, ‘rock solid’ blah blahNo thank you!

  3. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    Very smart stuff from BK on this issue in this edition and welcomed.

    You’re very properly putting Jack in his place. He’s just an entertainer, dancer, doing the left – right shuffle. No brains needed for that and nothing for society to gain from that old-fashioned crap.

    The Rhodes Scholar, what’s his name, ohhh yeah Tony Abbott, don’t underestimate him.
    Rhodes Scholars aren’t stupid one minute and enlightened the next.
    As a ‘psychopathologist’ I can read this boy’s signals well beyond the liar, conniver tricks he plays.
    He didn’t seek party approval for this announcement because he knew this new trick was way beyond the grasp of absolutely all of his colleagues even if one or other of them also had a Rhodes Scholarship hidden with their budgie in the nylon smuggler.

    This is the double wedge.
    Bigger socialism by a mile because ‘I love women and children’ (except poor ones) without a tax, that any poor voter could be conned to love and adore and wet themselves in anticipation of those bloody companies paying but they won’t and when they refuse (with their political power their refusal will be something else) and the Rhodes Scholar won’t have broken his promise.
    That’ll be after the election of course.
    One has to be a fool to analyse any statement, policy or discussion of Mr Tony Abbott’s without suspecting it to be a trick of some very clever kind.
    He has said so himself in the Rhodes Scholarship language which of course none of you understand but also in psychopathological terms so to brush up on this skill for most of you there’s nothing but to watch and learn from TV programs like ‘The Mentalist’.

  4. Liz45

    HARVEY – Oh, I don’t underestimate Abbott at all. I don’t think he’s a fair dinkum Rhodes Scholar, as I read somewhere that he didn’t do all the study, exams etc – he sort of got it by doing nothing much? Wished I’d kept that article now! I know his lying, sly, sleazy, myopic self-love type of ‘sociopath’? He’s dangerous!
    How could we forget his, ‘paid maternity leave over this govt(party’s) dead body’? Then he does a 360 and we’re supposed to believe him? How about Sharmon Stone’s cute response that it isn’t a new tax? It’s an “investment in the future blah blah blah”? I almost choked on my dinner laughing!

    I’m not a naive 15 yr old, I can assure you! Oh yes, didn’t he recently say something about not raising taxes for ANY of his policies? Wow! How long did that last? 2 weeks?

    THANE – Abbott was asked that. He said, that as all businesses would be taxed the same, regardless of how many if any women they employed, women would not be disadvantaged?(Don’t think I’m defending Abbott?YUK?)

    Oh, if only he had the same attitude to women whose youngest has turned 8 rs of age. Those women were forced to take a job, any job, regardless of whether they had child care, transport etc, if not, they’d lost their pension for up to 8 wks. Thankfully, the charities refused to play ball!

    Oh yes, he didn’t include the millionaires who were also in receipt of family benefits – they probably sent their kids to one of the private schools in receipt of millions of our dollars???

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