WILL Abbott govern like Thatcher? Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has demoted one of his senior policy staffers after the “throat-cutting” threat regarding funding to an indigenous foundation providing scholarships to assist Aboriginal children at high school.
Abbott responded quickly arguing that the behaviour “was completely unacceptable”. However, this gaffe provides another indication of the approach that a conservative government is likely to take if elected on September 14.
Australian conservatives regularly sing the praises of the “Iron Lady”, Maggie Thatcher, and the role she played in bringing a dysfunctional UK into the modern world as a powerful, vibrant economy. The constant media appearances of Tony Abbott in cycling and swimming gear may paint him as an iron man, but he would do well to distance himself from Thatcherism.
Listening to Abbott and his shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, it is hard to believe that Thatcher’s Britain was entirely different from today’s Australia. But it is! Australia has a vibrant economy. The unions do not bear any similarity to those of the 1970s in the UK with their bloody-mindedness in protecting unsustainable jobs and constant strikes that were crippling the country. Although these were issues that Thatcher was dealing with when she came to power and took on the unions in a confrontational battle, it is certainly not necessary in Australia.
Despite the global financial crisis, Australian government income in 2012 was around $361 billion per annum with interest repayment on debt around $12 billion. To understand this in layman’s terms, as explained in one blog, “if you earn $361/week and your housing loan interest payments were $12/week would you consider you had a problem?” And yet, day after day, Abbott and Hockey argue Australia is in financial crisis.
It’s not just Abbott – Labor is contributing with the Gillard Government’s bloody-minded attempts to rush the Budget back into surplus. It has set bringing the economy back into an immediate surplus as a measure of good financial management. And this has come back to bite it!
The economy did need a stimulus during the global financial crisis that required some borrowing. It is now appropriate that government bring the Budget back towards a surplus. Even though there are sound arguments for borrowing to share intergenerational responsibility for our shared infrastructure, by planning for a Budget surplus in the long term Australia will be protected from the woes that have beset European Community countries such as Greece and Cyprus.
The price of Prime Minister Thatcher bringing the UK out of the economic doldrums was the growing disparity between the rich and the poor.
The World Economic Forum rated inequality in income as one of the key risk factors in its “Global Risk 2013 Report”.
Perhaps Tony Abbott and his conservative coalition do have policies to protect the most vulnerable. Perhaps they will pursue the Australian ideal of a “fair go”. Let’s hope so!
However, until they begin to release their policies, the slash-and-burn statements of people such as Joe Hockey, the slip-ups from his own staffers and the modelling of the conservative approach in places such as Queensland are the only indications of the sort of government that is on the horizon.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.