It’s becoming increasingly difficult to work out exactly what Tony Abbott’s view is on the importance of keeping election promises.
As opposition leader, Abbott was ferocious in his denunciation of Julia Gillard for breaking promises, most famously on the carbon price. He insisted he would never breach faith with voters, not even if the budget turned out to be significantly worse than he expected. “I’ll delay a return to surplus,” he once said, rather than break promises, assuring voters that he had conservatively costed his program to ensure that would never be a problem.
The Abbott government’s broken promises, of course, have been a theme throughout 2014, with the PM insisting for much of the year that he had broken none. In recent weeks, that appeared to soften, when he declared that he had “fundamentally” kept faith with voters. Today he admitted that his cuts to the ABC and SBS were “at odds” with his pre-election statement that he wouldn’t cut funding to the national broadcasters, but that circumstances had changed — a line used by Gillard about the carbon price.
Moreover, he urged Victorian Premier-elect Daniel Andrews to break his most prominent campaign promise, to dump the East West Link, as though voters would be relaxed about such a flagrant and immediate breach of faith.
So as far as we can work out, Abbott’s view is that a campaign promise should always be kept unless it’s an efficiency dividend, or an indexation adjustment, or a modest co-payment, or you’re a Labor government and Abbott dislikes your policy, or the budget situation requires it even if you specifically ruled out ever using the budget as an excuse to break a promise.
Politicians break promises, and oftentimes for good reasons. Hypocrisy is a core part of political debate, like it or not. But politicians who insist that they are above all that — that they will be better than all the rest — are simply inviting a comeuppance from voters. And it appears that is exactly what the Prime Minister is receiving.