Monday, 7 March 2016
This was former prime minister and MP for Warringah Tony Abbott donning his ‘journalist’ hat in The Australian on 27 February 2016 in order to trot out an increasingly tired old defence of his failed leadership.
We have courageous Tony, strong Tony, honest Tony, reforming Tony, fiscally responsible Tony, union busting Tony, tax killing Tony, boat stopping Tony, free trade Tony, war leader Tony, I'm better than Mal Tony, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…..
“The first law of governing is that you can’t spend what you can’t raise through taxes and borrowings; and the second law is that today’s borrowings have to be paid for — with interest — by tomorrow’s taxes. Governments, like households and businesses, have to live within their means.
With more than $250 billion of cumulative deficits under the former Labor government, the need for budget repair was the constant refrain of the Abbott opposition and the task of budget repair was the most important work of the Abbott government. We were far from fully successful but made a determined effort.
Certainly, no fair-minded judge could accuse us of shirking the challenge.
In 2014, launching Paul Kelly’s book on the Rudd-Gillard era, I said that the mission of the Abbott government was to prove that the age of reform had been interrupted, not ended; and that the Rudd-Gillard years were an aberration, not the new normal. To then lose the prime ministership in a partyroom coup was to repeat recent history, not to change it. Still, for two years, the Abbott government squarely faced up to our nation’s challenges and did much that will stand the test of time.
We met new national security challenges at home and abroad with a strength and sureness that was noticed internationally. And we began the critical task of budget repair. This was achieved despite a hysterical opposition, a populist Senate crossbench, a poisonous media — and, as shown by the very well-organised September 2015 spill, some senior members who didn’t want the Abbott government to succeed.
As a citizen paying a mortgage, let alone as a senior minister working to a budget, I had always understood very well that everything has to be paid for. Every single thing that government does — maintaining the police and armed forces, administering justice, paying for social security and facilitating schools and hospitals — all has to be funded by taxpayers. So ensuring that government spends no more than it really must is not just an economic imperative, it’s also a moral one. It’s the respect that government owes to taxpayers for whom every dollar is hard-earned.
The key to a strong and prosperous economy was getting government spending down so that tax cuts could responsibly be delivered. This, in fact, is the constant challenge of government: keeping its own spending under control so that tax can be low and private sector confidence can be high.
Early on, the Abbott government showed its economic mettle.
Refusing to offer further subsidies to chronically unprofitable carmakers when Holden and Toyota announced, around Christmas 2013, the end of production in Australia; declining to extend a loan guarantee to Qantas when it claimed its future was in jeopardy; and telling SPC Ardmona to look to its parent company, rather than to government, for a bailout when its closure was a risk to regional Victoria meant that “the age of entitlement was over”, at least for business welfare.
These were not easy decisions. They were very vigorously debated inside the cabinet.
The Abbott government’s car industry decision will ultimately save taxpayers upwards of half a billion dollars a year. As its latest results show, our Qantas decision forced the unions to accept that their members’ jobs required their employer’s profitability. And our SPC decision forced the company to innovate rather than to continue products that had gone out of fashion.
In workplace relations, the Abbott government swiftly moved to reform the union movement in a pragmatic, two-step process that would lead to reform of workplaces.
At the 2013 election, we’d sought a mandate for a registered organisations commission to subject union officials to the same standards of governance as company directors, and for a re-established Australian Building and Construction Commission to be a tough cop on the beat for large projects regularly subject to union blackmail. We’d also promised a judicial inquiry into union corruption.
Now that the Heydon royal commission has provided an abundance of evidence to justify these policies, it’s hard to see the legislation once more being blocked in the Senate. The crossbenchers have the justification they need; and even a CFMEU-influenced opposition is unlikely to risk a double-dissolution election defending union thugs.
These aren’t the workplace changes that the most committed reformers typically seek but they were the ones most likely to pass this Senate. Higher-calibre union officials would be more likely to enter into constructive negotiations with vulnerable employers. Further, an intimidation-free building industry, on past evidence, would likely be at least 10 per cent more efficient, saving consumers upwards of $5bn a year.
Wherever the Abbott government had comparative freedom of action — for instance, in national security or foreign policy — it was largely successful. Even in economic policy, which often required the passage of legislation through a difficult Senate, much was achieved. Indeed, one of the strongest endorsements of the Abbott government’s economic policy has been Malcolm Turnbull’s pledge to maintain it.
The abolition of the carbon tax removed a $9bn a year economic handbrake. The abolition of the confidence-killing mining tax was the clearest possible indicator that, under the Abbott government, Australia really was “open for business”. With the scrapping of its predecessor’s tax hits on educational expenses, on vehicle leasing and on bank account deposits, and with its reductions in tax for small business and the small business tax writeoff for assets under $20,000, the Abbott government demonstrated its tax-cutting credentials…….”
If anyone can bear to read further, the full newspaper article is here and an even wordier version is in the March issue of Quadrant here.