Saturday, 23 March 2013

Let's focus on Abbott's plans, not the ALP leadership

Abbott fronts the press after the spill.
With the cacophonous echo-chamber of Australia's media intoning a single note, as it drones on and on about the ALP leadership spill, a lot of people in the community are looking forward to the day when they can learn exactly what the Liberal-National coalition plans if it wins the federal election on 14 September. Oh, sure, they're there. You get an occasional person asking a question during Q and A. Once or twice a month a journalist in the MSM even writes something about this question. But in essence the Australian public seems happy to cruise into spring knowing nothing substantive about what lies ahead. With the opinion polls strongly favouring the Coalition, Tony Abbott and his crew don't need to say anything, and so they don't. And we're none the wiser.

But from time to time you get an inkling, as we did after last week's spill when Abbott fronted the media in Canberra to deliver his damaging narrative about the ALP's "civil war". Look behind the man. On the backdrop that has been carefully erected to frame Abbott - with Truss on his left and Bishop on his right - you can see some icons printed on cardboard. Ok, so we've got a "no carbon tax" icon, which is pretty self-explanatory, and chimes in with what Abbott and his mates have been telling us since goodness knows when. But over to the left there's a little icon that shows a Greek-style classical entrance with five pillars. Underneath it is something that probably says something like "Five pillars of strength". Who knows? What is important is that Campbell Newman and Barry O'Farrell had similar images at work during their election campaigns. And similarly low levels of actual policy. Both state leaders were elected by a wide margin.

In the case of Newman, the LNP government started on a crusade against the public service. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost, causing the unemployment rate in Queensland to soar to over 6.5%. Newman also took an axe to TAFE, promising to close or amalgamate a number of campuses, with the result that fewer young people from low-income families will have an opportunity to receive a useful education. Newman also stripped the guts out of environmental regulations, making it easier for miners to launch projects. He has done nothing for farmers, with his focus on bolstering employment in the mining sector by supporting the coal seam gas industry in the state.

What Abbott would do if he won in September is pure conjecture. We know nothing at all about his plans in terms of education, green technologies, health, or the environment. And he likes it like that. Fewer policies in the public sphere make it harder for anyone to call him to account. It's a small target strategy that's being promoted by the majority of the nation's press as they continue to focus all their energies on the now complete irrelevancy of the Labor Party leadership. Certain sectors of the press are more complicit in this than others. But for example the single minded focus of the News Ltd media on the media reforms last week did no service to the community at all. And Fairfax journalists who insist on making everything that Simon Crean says a headline are letting us all down.

Let's focus on Abbott and what he represents. He's getting a free pass. Call him on his unwillingness to announce policy. Make him explain.

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