Sunday, 24 March 2013

The media and the government should scrutinise Abbott's plan

Tony Abbott has had published a type of policy document on the Liberal Party website that sets out a set of policy guidelines that would come into effect if his party wins government in September. It's repetitive and partisan, which is not helpful, but you could hardly expect anything different from an Opposition.

I won't stick to the script it sets out. From a quick reading - it is about 50 pages long, which is going to be way too long for the average person to handle, and is readable only for the media and others employed in industries that are close to the public sphere - it efficiently ignores the GFC completely, concentrating on promises to reduce government spending and creating one million new jobs over the next five years. It ties the carbon tax to family spending - and spending for small business, elsewhere - and ignores how energy prices have been largely pushed up by forces independent of the carbon tax (gold plating of infrastructure in the case of electricity, the export hub being built at Gladstone in the case of gas).

For businesses also the document promises less red- and green-tape (fewer regulations) and fewer days lost due to union actions; I take this as shorthand for a promise to reintroduce Howard's industrial relations laws. The document also says nothing about the high value-add manufacturing industries that are benefiting from the carbon tax, and how they will fare if it is abolished; Abbott's plan talks about strengthening "Manufacturing Innovation" but there's very little concrete to ensure health in this part of the economy. The idea that the carbon tax can actually help the economy seems to have completely slipped Abbott's mind when he was drafting his spiel.

In terms of infrastructure the focus is on better roads, not public transport. For health and education the document talks about "putting local communities in charge" and improved relations with state governments. Also for research Abbott wants to "support the use of new technologies, particularly digital and IT" but I wonder how this can be possible if the Liberals intend to shut down the NBN. Ditto for the idea of boosting education exports to Asia through the use of online delivery. The document also takes credit for the NDIS, which was Labor policy, and a law that Labor introduced with the support of the Greens. Getting back to education, Abbott merely paints a picture where instead of "unaccountable bureaucrats" "parents, principals and school communities" will be put "in charge" and this is better for students. This smack to me of tired Liberal rhetoric, and it chimes in with Abbott's promise to "end government waste".

Halfway through the document comes the first bit of news, and it's attached to a photo of the party's deputy leader, Julie Bishop. It's to do with improving economic opportunities in the Asian region, which means that - as in the case of the NDIS, which passed through Parliament last week with bipartison support - the Liberals have adopted Julia Gillard's 'Asian Century' platform. Abbott here promises that 40% of high school students will be studying a foreign language, "preferably and Asian language", in year 12. He also wants to implement a "two-way 'Colombo Plan'" by having not only Asian students coming to Australia to study at university, but also Australian students going to Asian universities to study. This is great stuff and should be something that both sides of Parliament embrace.

There's also a list of infrastructure projects including a copy of Gillard's promise to complete the M4 to the Sydney CBD. In SE Queensland the plan promises to improve the road to Toowoomba and to upgrade the Gateway Motorway - both projects that desperately need to be done. And there's a promise to complete the duplication of the Pacific Highway from Newcastle to the Queensland border. For the defence forces the Liberals want to increase spending also.

For women, Abbott promises to index parental leave payments to the actual wage, rather than to the minimum wage. He also promises a review into the childcare system so that it's not just suitable for mothers working 9-to-5 "as work patterns and demands on parents are different today than even a decade ago". Oh, and cyberbullying. For seniors the Libs promise to leave superannuation alone "so that those planning for their retirement can face the future with a higher degree of predictability". "We believe the people who want to plan and save for their retirement should be supported by government, not penalised." But Abbott also wants workers aged 50 years and over to get back in the workforce; a Liberal government would provide "better structured incentives for employers" to do this.

There's plenty in this plan for the government to attack, and for the media to scrutinise. We can only hope that once the kerfuffle about the spill has finally died down those two groups can get on with the job of discussing how Abbott's plan would play out in real life. There are 91 instances of the word "better" in the 50-page plan, and it's their job to help us find out if things would actually improve under a Coalition government, or if it's all just spin.


Geoffrey Burrows said...

I had a look at the Liberal's policy document. While reading it, I felt like I was being indoctrinated. It seems like little more than some overly idealistic propaganda. I'm sure they could have shaved at least a dozen pages off it.

According to their own spiel, they plan on making every Australian's life easier with better services, by getting rid of a couple of key revenue sources. And they plan to help the environment, but still get rid of the Carbon Tax.

If they're elected to government, I can't wait to see this magic trick in action.

Anonymous said...

Damned if you do and damned if you don't - that seems to be the bottom line with LNP Policy.

Everyone squeaks about LNP having no policies and when Abbott releases it, they are criticise it and cut it to shreds - instead of focusing on real solutions themselves.

This Labor mob is the most inept, disloyal and corrupt Government Australians have ever seen.