Prime Minister Tony Abbott was an extraordinarily effective opposition leader. His was a campaign of negativity, a stranglehold on the word “yes”, a reduction of the Gillard administration into a weaponised soundbite. She lied, we were told, over and over and over; she broke a promise. And it worked.

It worked so well, in fact, that Abbott was elected on the back of a very specific credo: “There will be no surprises and no excuses from a Coalition government”. Perhaps circumstances have changed, or perhaps he has been haunted by the belated realisation that the internet is written in ink, but Abbott has since embarked on a concerted campaign to provide his critics with the exact same calibre of ammunition he previously wielded.

Crikey thought it would be a good time to dig up the original Liberal Party pre-election policy document from January 2013, which contained 12 policy priorities. As we approach the second anniversary of the promises that delivered a mandate, how do they stack up? A hint: there are some surprises.

1. We will build a stronger, more productive and diverse economy with lower taxes …

No Senate approval, no problem — the Abbott government pushed through a fuel tax increase by using a Customs tariff. What did pass Senate was a deficit levy, or a 2% tax on individuals earning more than $180,000. Both of these were met with a mix of outrage and displeasure.

2. We will get the budget back under control, cut waste and start reducing debt …

Ah, the budget. Future historians will look back to the 2014 budget as the moment when we realised this administration was actually as bad as we first thought, when even Abbott’s supporters in the media began to turn against him. Surprises included cutting $7.5 billion in foreign aid; cutting off Newstart benefits to young unemployed people for six months; and increasing the pension age to 70. And it’s probably worth mentioning that the deficit is now $48.5 billion, or $18 billion more than the deficit the Coalition inherited. You can’t get a credit rating without having debt, but by the Coalition’s self-imposed metrics this is hardly a budget under control.

3. We will help families get ahead by freeing them from the burdens of the carbon tax …

In the single most clear-cut victory of the Abbott government, the carbon tax was scrapped in July this year. Abbott said the average household would save $550 a year from the repeal, and that gas and electricity prices would fall by 7% and 9% respectively. Never mind that irrelevant infrastructure is the main reason for higher electricity prices, helping power the narrative that the carbon tax is evil. Never mind Abbott’s previous comments in favour of a tax. That’s the thing about a weathervane — it changes with the wind, no matter what smog that wind may bring.

4. We will help small businesses grow and create more jobs; AND

5. We will create stronger jobs growth by building a world-class five-pillar economy; AND

6. We will generate 1 million new jobs over the next five years …

These are long-term promises and it’s too soon to call them, but this year’s Australian Jobs report has employment growing 7.2% by November 2018. But speaking of jobs, there was a promise that there would be no cuts to superannuation — the Abbott government has gone back on this, with rates frozen at 9.5% until 2021.

7. We will build more modern infrastructure to get things moving …

Figures released last week show that public spending on capital works shrunk in each of the past three quarters. Then there was the boast that $50 billion in infrastructure projects were on the way — until it emerged that most of those projects had been launched by the previous Labor government. Also evident is a fetish for roads over all other forms of transportation, as evinced by Abbott’s declaration that the recent Victoria state election was a “referendum on the East West Link”. Labor won, and Abbott doubled down — first insisting the toll road would be built, then threatening to withdraw $3 billion in federal funding to Victoria. The threat was a surprise; the petulance much less so.

8. We will deliver better services including health services …

Removing the Australian National Preventive Health Agency and the National Partnership Agreement on Prevention were more or less expected, but the budget had plenty of other surprises. A promise to increase public hospital funding has been abandoned. Despite pre-election assurances, Medicare Locals will be cut from July 2015. The mooted $7 GP co-payment — a fee that almost seems designed to penalise those who need a federal healthcare plan the most — is deeply unpopular. That seems to be the sentiment within the Liberal party too, with a flurry of reportage necessitating a vote of confidence late last month.

9. We will deliver better education …

Fair’s fair — some of the reported cuts to education spending weren’t really cuts. Still, there have been some rather interesting decisions made, including a $244 million scheme to put chaplains in religious schools, with no option for secular workers. Then there was the plan to deregulate universities, with the government slashing course funding by an average of 20% and proposing to allow universities to set their own fees — while simultaneously extending funding that would help pay for the training of priests and religious workers at private colleges. Last week, the Senate voted down the proposed changes; Education Minister Christopher Pyne, continuing a theme of the Abbott administration, told everyone he didn’t care and that it didn’t really hurt and vowed to try again.

10. We will take direct action to reduce carbon emissions inside Australia, not overseas … 

This is the sort of firm commitment to matters domestic that prompted Australia to commit to conflict in Iraq, but let’s set that aside for the moment. Abbott has certainly kept his promise here, refusing to contribute in any way to US President Barack Obama’s push for a $10 billion global climate fund. And his version of a zero-emission power supply is nuclear energy, to which he has no “theological objection”. It’s the perfect straight line. In any case, the Abbott government is aiming for a 5% reduction in emissions by 2020.

11. We will deliver stronger borders …

Having reported one boat arrival between January and August this year, the Coalition has kept its promise on stronger borders. Of course, turning boats around doesn’t mean they aren’t coming, and the most recent manufactured response to this manufactured issue is the migration and maritime powers legislation amendment, which gives the Immigration Minister “unprecedented, unchallengeable, and secret powers to control the lives of asylum seekers”. Which brings us nicely to our final point.

12. We deliver strong and stable government that restores accountability …

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s new secret powers and unchallengeable decisions sound like the stuff of cartoon supervillainy. But this is typical of an administration that bestowed upon the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation the power to monitor the entire Australian internet and threatens journalists and whistleblowers with up to 10 years in jail for disclosing classified information. This is a systematic, systemic effort to add opacity to a government that is seemingly allergic to accountability.

***

There are a few other broken promises and nasty surprises that need mentioning: the cuts to the ABC and SBS; having a grand total of one woman in cabinet; deciding that a science ministry simply wasn’t required; the spectacular achievement of having the world’s most powerful people gathered in Brisbane for the G20 and then choosing to hector them about domestic policy.

On the positive side is the free trade agreement with China, and Abbott’s bold response to the MH17 disaster, even if that later curdled into machismo. Pointing and laughing at rhetorical gymnastics and karmic retribution aside, that’s a fairly depressing ending to a list that has mostly been a downer, so let’s hark back to that time Abbott and Australia made it onto Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Now that was a nice surprise.

Peter Fray

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