Opposition leader Tony Abbott and his Treasurer Joe Hockey proposed their alternative to the flood levy yesterday: $2.065 billion in cuts from the budget. The cuts give the Coalition something to hold to with parliamentary debate about the flood levy beginning tomorrow.

Of course these cuts are only theoretical, but it has already caused infighting amongst the Liberals. Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop fought to keep nearly $400 million in aid for Africa, after Abbott suggested it should go. Other programs cut would include GP super-clinics, the ‘Building the Education Revolution’ school infrastructure program, a program building schools in Indonesia, water buybacks and car industry assistance.

So far reactions to Abbott’s proposed cuts have been mostly negative. “Tony Abbott’s $2 billion alternative to the government’s flood levy has fallen flat among crossbench MPs and been labelled ‘morally bankrupt’ by aid sector experts,” reported Laura Wilson and Sarah Elks in The Australian.

The cuts have caused “needless damage” amongst the Liberals, says Phillip Coorey in the Sydney Morning Herald: “The Coalition at the moment is a bit like Second Life, a virtual world in which people live and play through their avatars.”

It’s a risky move to start cutting budgets, argues Michelle Grattan in The Age: “It’s one thing to assert that there’s fat to be found, but quite another to suggest specific programs that should be slashed… in specifying cuts, Abbott has put lead in his saddle bag.”

Abbott’s setting himself up for trouble by not agreeing to the once-off levy. “So, with the government under considerable pressure to deliver, he has committed the cardinal political error of turning the focus on to himself,” argued The Australian editorial.

Not all disagreed with the cuts, just the ones he chose to do. As Greg Sheridan writes in The Australian:

“Tony Abbott made one brave decision and two bad mistakes in his announcements on foreign aid yesterday. The brave, and good, decision was to take the axe to Australia’s wildly ballooning aid budget… Abbott also made two big mistakes. Cutting the schools program to Indonesia is cutting the best part of our aid program… Abbott’s other mistake was to recommit to the Millennium aid goal for 2015.”

After being described as “wooden” by Abbott just days earlier in her dealings with Queensland floods, PM Julia Gillard became emotional in parliament when speaking about the victims of the floods and their bravery. Tony Wright eloquently wrote in The Age on Gillard’s rare show of tears: “It was as unexpected as a red gum, impervious to all that could be thrown at it, suddenly toppling days after the storm.”

Abbott became embroiled in another emotional saga, after footage was shown of Abbott discussing the death of a young soldier in Afghanistan last year, with Abbott saying: “It’s pretty obvious that, well, sometimes shit happens, doesn’t it?” After Abbott was shown the footage by Seven News journalist Mark, he was silent and visibly shaking with anger for nearly 20 seconds.

It would have been fair if Abbott had used his boxing skills from university days againt Riley, says Richard Farmer on Crikey’s The Stump, since “this was malicious journalism of an atrocious kind”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey