Yesterday, beleaguered Prime Minister Tony Abbott fronted the National Press Club to spell out his policies and strategy for the coming year. In the wake of a massive election defeat in Queensland, the Prime Minister took the chance to accept responsibility for some political misjudgements – particularly the so-called ‘captain’s pick’ of Prince Philip for an Australia Day knighthood and also his need to be more consultative with political colleagues. A Fairfax-Ipsos poll on the same day showed the fortunes of the Liberal Coalition government had fallen to their all-time low in the two-party preferred vote – 44 per cent supporting the Coalition compared to 56 per cent for Labor.
Mr Abbott commenced his speech to the National Press Club by saying he had spent the summer talking to Australians from all walks of life as well as his colleagues. He then went on to paint a picture of an uncertain world and the need for a stronger economy. Indeed he liked the word ‘strong’ so much, as one commentator noted, he used it 14 times. Mr Abbott claimed that a stronger economy:
“ …helps everyone who’s doing it tough” including:
- parents wrestling with school fees and health costs;
- small business people anxious to keep their staff;
- seniors whose superannuation has to fund their retirement;
- volunteers wondering if they can still afford to serve the community; and
- young people looking for their first job and their first home.
He then outlined some specific policies intended to help achieve such economic strength, including the ditching of his much loved Paid Parental Leave (PPL) scheme in favour of more affordable childcare, a tax cut for small businesses and more general tax reform.
Mr Abbott finished his speech with a plea to be allowed to deliver the “stable government that you elected us to be just 16 months ago”, in order to ensure “hope, reward and opportunity”.
Read the full transcript at TheAustralian.com.au
Yesterday the PM’s National Press Club mea culpa canvassed most of the big issues swirling around federal politics this week. The silly ‘captain’s picks’ by a (now) contrite PM who is desperately eager to consult more with his colleagues. The disaster of the Queensland State Election is a visual reminder to all federal politicians how quickly an annoyed electorate will vote them out. A new, more popular tilt at providing affordable childcare for ALL rather than welfare for the well-off as mooted in the PPL. And an incentive in the form of a tax break for all small business owners.
To date, the Abbott Government has struggled to get its key legislation through the Senate. In particular changes to education, health, (particularly Medicare) and financial services regulations have been seen as a reversal of fundamental policy statements on the eve of the 2013 election. And so they still wait to be voted into law, with a volatile crossbench seemingly unable to be coerced to help. The same can be said for the proposed Age Pension changes, yet to pass the Senate. The PM stated, categorically, the night before he was elected that there would be no cuts to pensions. Yet the 2014/15 Budget contained proposals to cut the rate of indexation of pensions (ultimately costing pensioners $80 per week according to the Australian Council of Social Services) and to raise the pension eligibility age from 67 to 70.
Given the back down on key elements of health policy, the PPL and the stalling of higher education measures, it is fair to ask what is happening with the proposed changes to the pension. And it is on this subject the Government has gone ominously quiet. The incoming Minister for Social Services is Scott Morrison. His track record in the immigration portfolio is formidable. He is one of the few Abbott Government ministers to successfully push through radical reform, albeit with very questionable human rights issues. So it’s time for those on an Age Pension to be afraid – very afraid. The toughest minister in the cabinet is in charge of steering through legislation to reduce the pension.
Today the PM has declared his concern for Australian families and Australian small business. He mentioned senior Australians whose superannuation will fund their retirement. But not one word was said about those on pensions. We could be forgiven for believing this is because Mr Morrison will make these cuts his first priority. In the rush to come up with new policies for families and small business in order to save his own leadership, the PM seems to have made yet another major blunder. Older Australians have slipped off the agenda while pension cuts are set to roll, there are a LOT of older Australian voters and their voices will be heard, loud and clear, if they believe their needs have been overlooked.
What do you think? Did the PM’s National Press Club speech impress you? Are you concerned if the focus is on families and small business? Will the proposed Age Pension changes successfully pass through the Senate?