Yesterday, after a week from hell in which even the News Corp papers turned on him, Tony Abbott gave a press conference that earned him some breathing room in the media. By admitting what everyone already knew to be the case — that his actions on ABC funding weren’t consistent with his pre-election commitment — Abbott was finally doing the right thing, according to parts of the Canberra press gallery.

Phillip Coorey wrote in the AFR that Abbott was “throwing himself to the wolves” by offering to answer questions from journalists (isn’t that part of his job?), while Dennis Shanahan in The Australian described the conference as an admission that there were “problems with tactics and perceptions”. “The Prime Minister has shown he is listening,” the Oz editorialised.

The problem is, it’s the Abbott government’s policies, not the PM’s communication problems, that have the masses deserting it in droves — universally unfair policies that make education and healthcare more expensive and unemployment more difficult. Yes, the messaging of them has been atrocious, but getting real with a room full of journalists doesn’t address the core problem facing the Abbott government.

Canberra’s political reporters have a tendency to focus on political personalities and messaging — this is understandable, since the press gallery is central to that process. But getting the gallery on side won’t shift voters’ conviction that the budget is unfair and the government can’t be trusted. And if Abbott’s mea culpa doesn’t come with policy changes it will prove once and for all that the government has learnt nothing from its year of woe.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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