Breaking Bad

My op-ed in today's Daily Telegraph discusses Mr Abbott's three broken promises in his first three weeks in office.
Broken promises after just three weeks in job, The Daily Telegraph, 11 October 2013

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made a great deal of the importance of keeping his promises. A few days before the election, he said that if he became Prime Minister: ‘you should move heaven and earth to keep commitments and only if keeping commitments becomes almost impossible could you ever be justified in not keeping them. And I suspect the electorate would take a very dim view even in those circumstances.’

And yet after just three weeks in the job, Mr Abbott has broken at least three promises.

First, Mr Abbott told Australians before the election that the nation was facing a ‘budget emergency’. In his campaign launch speech, he promised a budget update within 100 days of the election. Yet now he looks set to put off the mid-year budget update until 2014, well outside his 100-day timetable. As if that wasn’t enough, we have Joe Hockey – who spent his years as Shadow Treasurer railing against ‘debt and deficits’ – relying all the time on the misleading ‘gross debt’ figure to exaggerate how much we owe. Now, according to recent reports, Mr Hockey is looking for ways to reclassify debt so he can borrow more for his favourite projects. Could this really be the same party that held media conferences in front of a ‘debt truck’?

Second, after pledging that no public servants would be fired, Mr Abbott used his first full day in the job to fire three agency heads. All were career public servants who had worked for both sides of politics. Indeed, one had helped Peter Costello implement the GST, while another was chief of staff to Liberal Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock. Their crime was to state the obvious: that policies like turning back the boats and Direct Action (aka soil magic) won't work. Instead of a frank and fearless public service, it looks like the Coalition wants a flaccid and fearful public service.

Third, Mr Abbott said in no uncertain terms: ‘the assurance that I give the superannuants and the superannuation savers of Australia is that there will be no adverse changes to their superannuation arrangements under this Government’. But in order to pay for policies like cutting the mining tax, his own costings show that he will raise taxes on the superannuation of 3 million low-income earners. This group – two thirds of whom are women – will be adversely affected, with lower superannuation balances as a result. Mr Abbott’s broken promise will hit people like sales assistants, childcare workers and hairdressers, who already struggle to put enough into superannuation.

There are also smaller breaches. Speaking at the Garma festival in August, Mr Abbott left many in the crowd with the impression that he would spend his first week as Prime Minister in northeast Arnhem Land. While he does have a track record of spending more time in Indigenous communities than most parliamentarians, he hasn’t yet spent a week on Yolngu land. And following his visit to Indonesia, it’s becoming clear that his avowed ‘boat buyback’ policy will be nothing more than an assistance fund to Indonesia.

Then there are the policy areas where the public is being softened up for a backflip. Despite being slapped down by his leader, Education Minister Christopher Pyne is clearly angling to cap the number of people going to university, and scrap targets that aim to raise the participation of disadvantaged Australians. What does this say to the aspirations of a bright high school student who hopes to be the first in her family to get a degree?

Also on the chopping block is the Coalition’s promise to cut taxes every year in office. Not complying with Peter Costello’s Charter of Budget Honesty might have served them well in the election campaign, but now they’re in government, the books have to balance. It’s hard to see how you can offer a multi-billion dollar tax cut to big polluters, give $75,000 to millionaire families when they have a baby, and still reduce income taxes for the rest of us. It is impossible to raise spending, cut taxes, and pay down debt faster. Unless Mr Abbott works out a way of repealing the laws of mathematics, that is.

The longer Mr Abbott is in the job, the wider the gap between the reality and his pre-election rhetoric. If he really believes in open government, why do his ministers have to seek permission from the Prime Minister’s office before speaking to the press? If he wants to raise ethical standards, why is his ministerial code of conduct being written by a man who thinks it’s appropriate for taxpayers to fly him to a mate’s wedding? If he believes that men and women should be equal, why does cabinet have just one woman – as it did in 1975?

Over the next term, Labor will be working hard to develop policies that build a fairer and more prosperous Australia. But we will also be keeping Mr Abbott to account on his pledges. With three broken promises in three weeks, who knows how many we will see in the next three years?

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and his website is

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