My op-ed in today's SMH sets out some of the questions the incoming Prime Minister has to answer.
Ten Challenges for Tony Abbott, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times, 13 September 2013
As a poll sceptic, I’m fairly rare in Parliament House. Most of the building watches opinion polls with the eagerness of sailors looking for land. For those on the Coalition side, the fact that almost every opinion poll in the past three years has gone in their favour has given them a strong sense of confidence that they would form government at this election.
The Coalition won the election with a convincing margin, and I congratulate Mr Abbott on becoming our 28th Prime Minister. But given the length of time the Abbott Government has had to prepare for office, the real surprise is the number of major policy questions that lie unanswered. Here are ten for starters.
First, given that we know from independent experts such as the Grattan Institute that Direct Action will not meet the bipartisan target of cutting emissions by 5 percent by 2020, how does the government intend to reduce our carbon emissions? Given that Australia has just had the hottest summer on record, is it really acceptable for the developed nation with the highest emissions per person to back away from action on carbon emissions?
Second, we know that one of the leading causes of Indigenous disadvantage stems from incarceration, which is why both parties are committed to adding it into the Closing the Gap targets. But given that he has committed to cutting funding to Aboriginal Legal Aid, how will Mr Abbott ensure that this doesn’t lead to more Indigenous people ending up in jail?
Third, how will Mr Abbott manage to reduce public service numbers by 12,000 without firing anyone? Won’t public servants simply stay in their jobs once the hiring freeze takes effect? And what if a key infectious disease specialist leaves the Department of Health – will she really not be replaced?
Fourth, does the cancellation of Steve Bracks’ diplomatic appointment signal that the era of bipartisanship public appointments is at an end? Labor in government appointed Brendan Nelson and Tim Fischer to key diplomatic posts, put Peter Costello onto the Future Fund board, and appointed Brendan Nelson as head of the Australian War Memorial. Will an Abbott Government put loyalty before ability in making similar appointments?
Fifth, is the government now abandoning negotiations for a free trade agreement with China, given that its plan to reduce the foreign investment threshold for agribusiness is a direct slap in the face to Chinese interests? What Australian exporters miss out on when this deal falls over?
Sixth, has the government decided which countries will miss out as a result of its $4.5 billion cut to foreign aid? How have those governments reacted to the reduction in assistance? How many fewer children will be vaccinated as a result of these cuts?
Seventh, will the government’s ‘turn back the boats’ policy be raised in the first bilateral meetings with Indonesia? And how will the Australian Government go about buying back Indonesia’s 750,000 fishing boats? Will it use eBay, or will Scott Morrison just stand on the wharves with a fistful of Rupiah?
Eighth, how does the government respond to the prospect of a ‘digital divide’ in suburbs where some families will now get fibre to the home, while others will have to make do with an inferior service? Will those on the wrong side of the road have to pay $5000 to obtain the service their neighbours received free?
Ninth, what is Mr Abbott doing about the ‘budget emergency’ he alleged was plaguing the nation a few months ago? If the nation’s finances are in such parlous shape, why is he introducing a wage-replacement parental leave scheme rather than sticking with the current flat-rate scheme?
Tenth, is the government’s abolition of the low-income superannuation contribution going to be retrospective? This affects 3.6 million workers (2.1 million of them women), working as sales assistants, kitchen hands and bricklayers. Does Mr Abbott honestly plan to make a retrospective raid on their superannuation accounts, in order to help fund a tax cut to mining companies?
Like George W. Bush before him, Mr Abbott appears to like using corporate analogies for government, stating on election night that ‘Australia is under new management’. But like President Bush, he may find that heading a government requires a little more nuance and sophistication than running a campaign. He could start by answering these simple questions.
Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com.
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