As the Abbott government celebrated its first year in office over the weekend, political journalists and commentators relished the opportunity to pull out their report cards.
The Canberra Times published an editorial on Sunday suggesting that while the Coalition had made good on some core promises (e.g. removing the carbon tax, stopping the boats), its wisdom and execution were questionable. In areas such as the budget, health and education, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has “broken or failed with other promises, express or implied, and generally failed to live up to expectations”. All in all, “even its friends would admit that it has yet to do enough to deserve re-election”.
Over at The Sydney Morning Herald, chief political correspondent Mark Kenny gives Abbott a mixed report card. Kenny writes effusively about Abbott’s performance on the world stage, particularly during the aftermath of MH17 and his comments on Ukraine, but again the issue of broken promises dominates. “His promises of no new taxes, no excuses, no surprises, have been broken wilfully, repeatedly, and without adequate expression of remorse,” writes Kenny.
Insiders host Barrie Cassidy feels similarly, writing that Abbott had been exemplary when it came to foreign issues but failed miserably with his first budget. “Despite delusional claims to the contrary, the problem was not the salesman; well, not entirely. The major problem is the product. The country has made up its collective mind. It’s unfair. DiCaprio couldn’t sell it.”
Just what Leonardo DiCaprio could sell is anyone’s guess.
The Australian Financial Review‘s Laura Tingle and Phillip Coorey focus on a different broken promise: that Australia’s economy would improve with a change of government. “The Coalition’s promise that the sun would shine and the birds would sing on the back of its election did not come to pass; perhaps the first letdown voters would have felt long before the May budget,” they write. Despite his penchant for swimming, Tingle and Coorey are also surprised at just how dry Abbott is: “The Prime Minister has led perhaps the hardest line on economic policy we have seen since the earlier manifestation of John Howard as leader in the mid-1980s.”
Canberra heavyweight Michelle Grattan is to the point: the Abbott government is “tribal, ideological, arrogant and over-centralised”. Abbott again wins plaudits for his performance on the international stage, but Grattan believes he’s struggled to effectively transition from opposition to government. “An opposition that thrived on slogans has become a government that deals in them,” she writes.
The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor wonders whether Abbott can recover the ground lost since last September. He has “burnt through political capital with astonishing speed”, all in the period which is supposed to be “the gently-does-it period of getting used to government”.
The Australian’s Paul Kelly scored — somewhat unsurprisingly — an exclusive sit-down interview with the man himself. The resulting article takes many a dig at Labor but offers Abbott a clear warning: don’t turn into Kevin Rudd: “Abbott has spent too much time in cabinet’s National Security Committee. He needs to reassess his time and his priorities as PM … Abbott is not Rudd. Yet he needs to be aware of the factors that brought Rudd down.”
Crikey wonders whether the Oz should reassess its time and priorities away from Monsieur Rudd for a while.
Meanwhile, the always effervescent Andrew Bolt thinks Abbott is finally good for something more than simply not being Kevin. Announcing that Abbott has arrived as a true leader, Bolt argues while there have been some broken promises the government is “now way ahead on the ledger”. The accompanying graphic, however, clearly shows five ticks and five crosses on the report card.
So what can we take from all this? There is a strong consensus the Abbott government did not adequately inform the electorate of its intentions before they went to the polls, leaving many surprised at the severity of the budget. The resulting backlash has left the Coalition struggling in the polls, but most believe there is time to turn it around.
Improved communication, a tighter (and more diverse) ship, a more “softly, slowly” approach to policy implementation and less of the culture warrior bluster and he might just manage it.