Tony Abbott’s budget reply speech [PDF] yesterday evening was a cynical exercise in smear, and as far as Australia’s economic future is concerned, practically ideas-free. This was not a speech that sought to respond to the Government’s proposals and to proffer alternatives – this was a speech squarely focused upon doing further political damage to the Prime Minister. The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, was not mentioned in the speech. The Henry Review report – the most substantial tax reform blueprint produced in decades -was barely mentioned. The Opposition’s well-worn “great big new tax” catchphrase was thrown in there no less than five times. And the only new policy offering alluded to was the introduction of a two-year freeze on back office hiring in the public sector.
Interestingly, it has been revealed today that there may have been one additional policy offering intended for inclusion in the speech – a cash payment of $10,000 to stay-at-home mothers. Abbott made an ass of himself on Neil Mitchell’s radio show this morning, attempting to avoid admitting that he had raised the idea in Cabinet, but wound up back-pedalling to the extent that he was forced to insult himself to stem the barrage of questions. As Joe Kelly relates for The Australian:
Mr Abbott said he didn’t think it was “fair construction” to say he was “rolled” by his colleagues.
When asked to put a fair construction on the discussion, he replied by saying: “I’m just not going to do that.”
And then: “Well, Neil, I’ve done the best I can. And I’m sorry if I’m a disappointment but I’ve done the best I can.”
A frustrated Mitchell fired back by telling Mr Abbott not to “play that trick”.
Mr Abbott laughed loudly and delivered a damning self-assessment.
“Yeah, I’m sorry mate. I’m being a wimp – OK?”
A momentary silence followed before Mitchell said “um, yeah… OK” and the conversation shifted on to Mr Abbott’s plans to freeze 12,000 public sector jobs to save an estimated $4 billion.
That Abbott allegedly even thought fit to raise such a policy as a suggestion in the current climate speaks volumes about his political nous and indeed his leadership abilities.
No wonder there was a big hole in his speech where a constructive policy centrepiece should have been.
Clearly, playing the “attack dog” and engaging in constant carping is one thing; policy formulation and setting out a positive vision for the nation is something else entirely.