One of the funnier aspects of the black comedy that was Kevin Rudd’s return to the prime ministership was how little preparation he had done for it — despite having twiddled his thumbs on the backbench doing nothing but destabilising Julia Gillard for 16 months, he arrived at the prime ministership without much in the way of a policy agenda and was quickly found out when his election campaign was reduced to thought bubbles and on-the-fly announcements. Almost as if getting the job back was more important to Rudd than what he wanted to do for Australia once he had it …

In his campaign of destabilisation, Tony Abbott isn’t falling into the same trap. He’s hanging out his policy shingle — originally disguised as helpful advice to his colleagues; now, in a blatant challenge to the man who replaced him. His website is thus adorned with a six-point plan to “win the next election”, based on his speech yesterday to a far-right think tank. The problem isn’t so much that his “plan” is utterly inconsistent with his own actions as prime minister (Abbott is a byword for hypocrisy even within his own party), nor that it is entirely negative (“stop this”, “end that”, “scale back this”), as that it is riddled with internal contradictions and inconsistencies. Almost as if Abbott is unable to put together a coherent set of ideas.

Indeed, the fact that he bizarrely calls himself a “liberal conservative” provides a clue that he is genuinely unable to think clearly about policy — a criticism made about Abbott on economic issues for decades.

Take his insistence that we should “stop all new and frivolous spending to fix the budget”. In his speech, Abbott declared “getting spending down, at least as a percentage of GDP, is the only way responsibly to deliver the tax cuts that are necessary for jobs and growth.” Spending surged by 1.6 percentage points of GDP in Abbott’s first year as prime minister; when he was ousted it was fully 2 percentage points about the level Wayne Swan achieved in 2012-13. Scott Morrison has since got it back down closer to 25%. But Abbott doesn’t want to halt all new spending — he wants the government to build coal-fired power stations. Governments “should get another big coal-fired power station into action as soon as possible; and be prepared to ‘go it alone’ if political risk means the market won’t do it.”

[Tony Abbott: my 10 simple tricks for good government, whenever you choose to start it]

This is neither liberal nor conservative — it’s socialist. And it would do nothing for power prices, since if you started now, a new coal-fired power station wouldn’t commence operating until, probably, the mid-2020s. Interestingly, Abbott admitted something Crikey pointed out recently — he doesn’t merely want to end any subsidies for renewable energy, he wants to ban new renewable sources. “The only way to take the pressure off prices now is to have a moratorium on new windfarms at least until the problem of intermittency is addressed.”

Abbott hasn’t quite got to the point yet of realising that new coal-fired power needs existing renewable energy sources to be taken offline as well to ever be economic, but he’ll get there eventually. So, bans on renewable energy, and government-owned coal-fired power — a great big socialist solution from an acolyte of B.A. Santamaria.

Then there’s Abbott’s solution for housing affordability: “By scaling back immigration to migrants who can make a contribution from day one.”

Of course, if that had been applied in 1960, three-year old Tony Abbott would have blocked from entering Australia with his migrant parents. Children can’t make a contribution from day one — they need education and health services and housing and infrastructure. Abbott wouldn’t “make a contribution” for another 18 years or so. So Australia’s message to potential migrants would be “come here, but leave your families behind” — no matter how highly skilled or entrepreneurial they were. 

[All of the times ‘no undermining, no sniping’ Abbott has undermined and sniped in the past four months]

Abbott presumably wants to stop foreign students from studying here too — 400,000 of them, not a one of them “making a contribution”, but they require housing — or does he think they live in shipping containers? There goes one of our most successful export industries, education. Presumably he’s OK with the 100,000 457 visa holders here — after all, they make a contribution from day one — but they also require housing. Between the skilled migration program, 400,000 students and 100,000 457 visa workers, Abbott ‘s halt to all immigration (including, presumably, a complete stop to the humanitarian program) would do jack for housing affordability. Be bloody good for luring back One Nation voters though, eh?

And once he’s finished pummeling the economy, Abbott wants to “end funding for bully bureaucracies and welcome straight talking”. Some people might think a bully bureaucracy is one you gave massive powers to, like being able to jail journalists for reporting on the activities of spies, or get access to Australians’ personal data without a warrant, but presumably this is about abolishing the Human Rights Commission and section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Oh, but at the same time, he wants to “stop hate-preachers”. So people have a right to be bigots, but “hate-preachers” need to be silenced. Luckily it’s easy to tell them apart. “Hate-preachers” don’t have white skin.

Tony Abbott — not so much “do as I say, not as I did”, but “do as I say when I can stay consistent to the end of a sentence”.

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey