Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Whose rule book is Abbott playing from?

  • 15 May 2014

In late 2010 when Tony Abbott had risen to the leadership of the Coalition, as leader of the Opposition, I wrote a piece in Eureka Street questioning his moral core. I compared him to a high school debater whose commitment is only to the present argument, and what he needs to say in order to win. Put into a different situation, he is more than happy to argue the opposite position if it suits his then objectives.

The article concluded with the following observation:

Much is made of Abbott's Catholic faith, but it seems to me that the rule book he plays from has more in common with Machiavelli. Machiavelli famously concluded: 'Therefore it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain himself to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it according to the necessity of the case.' In the end everything can be sacrificed to gain and maintain power.

Now with the formulation of the budget strategy clearly in the public domain, we have a direct indication of the rule book Abbott is following.

Abbott's election strategy in 2013 was based on two sets of claims. The first was that the Gillard Government had broken the people's trust through the introduction of a carbon tax. There could be no mitigating circumstances, not excuses, no forgiveness for this breach. Abbott's unremitting attack on Gillard was taken up with gusto by various shock jocks — recall Allan Jones' comment that Gillard's father 'died of shame'.

The second was that his government would be a government of no surprises, that there would be no cuts in areas such as health, education, pensions and public broadcasting, no new taxes, and that he would fix the so-called 'budget emergency' created by Labor. The promises on no cuts in vital areas and no new taxes were repeated with the regularity of water dripping on stone, burrowing into our political consciousness.

That these goals of no cuts, no taxes and bringing down the budget deficit were mutually contradictory seemed to escape everyone's attention. But they were what people wanted to hear, and Abbott was more than happy to give it to them. It matched the 'necessity of the case' in order to get elected.

Abbott must surely have been aware that the promises he was making could not be delivered. In fact in government he and Joe Hockey have made several decisions — abolishing the