Precision-Guided Rhetorical Bullets: Tony Abbott’s Budget Reply

Opposition leader Tony Abbott, in his budget reply speech tonight, poleaxed Julia Gillard and the ALP, landing direct and scorching hits on every major weakness afflicting the present government. Looking and sounding like a Prime Minister, Abbott outlined a vision for government.

Budget reply speeches are never a line-by-line critique of what was delivered 48 hours earlier, and this was no exception; in one of the best speeches Abbott has delivered since assuming the Liberal Party leadership, he tore at the tattered remnants of the ALP’s credibility, whilst painting a healthier and rosier future for governance in Australia under a forthcoming Coalition government.

Abbott’s underlying theme of trust and the present government’s abuses of it, interwoven with the indisputable achievements of the Howard government, was a powerful one and its message simple: the Coalition would show there was “a better way.”

He ticked off on a long litany of broken promises, U-turns, own goals and disreputable conduct by the government, its MPs and those associated with it: the carbon tax, the mining tax, the deal with Andrew Wilkie on poker machine reform, the sellout of policy to the Greens, the alliance with Peter Slipper, the withdrawal of promised tax cuts for business, the Craig Thomson scandal…on and on it went; and as it did, every sentence — every carefully crafted phrase — was like a precision-guided verbal missile, zeroing in on target and detonating in a shower of political shrapnel.

And with whatever it was — anger, fear, or simply the self-indulgent fury of being hoist upon her own petard — the Prime Minister watched, stony faced and immobile.

Every charge Abbott laid hit its mark; speaking to an electorate fed up with the present government and its attendant misdemeanours and general lack of honesty, his speech will have resonated with the majority of swinging voters who watched or listened.

I think Abbott handled the issue of “class warfare” beautifully; this noxious and odious approach to political debate — once the staple of ALP politics in the 1950s and 1960s — has made a comeback in recent months, as Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard attack anything and anyone with the mildest smell of financial comfort about them, from mining billionaires to households earning $150,000 per annum, and right down to sinking the boot into people based simply on where they live.

Abbott should get off the North Shore (of Sydney) and go and talk to some real people, Gillard had sneered at him through a media interview earlier in the day.

Abbott’s counter tonight — that he lived in the suburbs, raised three daughters, had a mortgage and bills to worry about, and was careful to be a good neighbour and citizen — blasted Gillard’s credibility and neutralised what little merit, if any, her remarks were predicated on.

Abbott’s speech made the point that “Australia needs more successful people and more opportunities for people to succeed, yet this government’s message is: the harder you try, the harder we’ll make it for you.”

Abbott went on to outline, in broad brush strokes, his vision for an Abbott government which — perhaps unsurprisingly — took the form of an orthodox manifesto for a modern conservative administration, with its emphases on wealth creation and protection of the vulnerable, self-reliance and hard work, personal responsibility, support and conditions conducive to small businesses, strong national defences, integrity and accountability, and lower taxes through economic growth.

Abbott’s taunts — on the issue of carbon tax — that Labor MPs are now “frightened” to go doorknocking shot home; the obligatory false guffaws that had come from the government benches earlier in the Abbott speech were replaced at this point with icy silence.

And his systematic ridicule and dismantling of any claim to credibility Labor makes in delivering a budget surplus was searing; pointing out that it would take “100 years of Swan surpluses to repay four years of Swan deficits,” Abbott noted that Treasury’s own figures had already slashed the projected budget surplus for the coming year by nearly 60%, and that budgetary assumptions of Australia’s terms of trade and rate of economic growth made the headline figure of a $1.5 billion surplus optimistic indeed.

Abbott’s most blistering volleys were aimed at the culture of scandal and the widespread perception of dishonesty, disreputability and untrustworthiness affecting the government; his line that “before this government dies of shame, it should find a leader who isn’t fatally compromised by the need to defend the indefensible” may very well resonate and crystallise sentiment against Gillard and her government to the point that even a change in the Labor leadership would be rendered a pointless and useless exercise.

I personally would have liked to see a little more detail on specific policy initiatives; having said that, however — and with an election still over a year away, if the current Parliament runs to term — Abbott and his colleagues can be excused for holding back on these details, at least in the short to medium term.

This was a powerful speech. It was well-constructed, with the right mix of deadly barbs and positive, constructive aspirations for the country’s future; and it will leave most of those floating voters who heard it in no doubt that whatever the failings of the present Parliament and government, and irrespective of the opposition leader Abbott has been and will be for a little while to come, that he is determined to be a Prime Minister who will improve and strengthen Australia, and seek the betterment of the living standards of everyone who lives here.

It certainly left a rattled Prime Minister in Gillard looking as if her life was flashing before her eyes, and if Gillard in response can find some way to at least raise the standard of the rabble she leads for the balance of its period in office, then that will be a positive outcome too.

Hope, reward and opportunity; these are the things Abbott has pledged tonight to restore to Australia and its government if he wins office at the looming federal election that is now, at most, 15 months away.

This column expects nothing less; and if Abbott becomes Prime Minister next year — as seems increasingly likely — he will be held rigorously to account by those who elect him to deliver, fully, on the noble pledge with which he concluded his remarks this evening.


“The Right Kids?” Thoughts On Education, And Tony Abbott Is Right

In a substantive directional statement on policy that should be welcomed by his detractors, Tony Abbott has today said that the “right kids” should stay at school beyond year 10, and that the rest could be wasting their time. His position ought to be applauded.

One of the great frauds in Australian politics is that the Labor Party is “the party of education:” it is a load of codswallop, and based in nothing other than elitist chatter and sycophantic media coverage.

Apparently the ALP has devised a new “incentive scheme” to keep kids in school until the end of year 12; the bait is a potential extra $4000 per child for doing so.

Another Labor bribe, this time aimed at its self-decreed educational standards.

Rather than sink the boot into the ALP directly, on this occasion I’d like to share some thoughts and personal anecdotal experience of this issue.

The Labor Party, increasingly over the past 40 years, has sought to move Australia to an environment in which anyone with less than a university degree would be compromised on their journey into the world.

And compromised as a recognised functional member of society; no degree, in Labor eyes, equals no value.

Never mind how ludicrous such a position might be.

And never mind the real, real value of experience — which, outside true professions (law, medicine, dentistry, vet science, etc) — is of far more value than a bit of paper.

This lunacy reached its zenith 20 years ago, at about the time my disenchantment with so-called “education” at a university exploded.

I was one of the smartest kids in the joint at high school; my TE Score (Queensland Tertiary Entrance rating) of 920 in 1989 placed me in the top 4% of the 46,000 graduating year 12 students that year.

I was also — by peer sentiment — the “most likely” to achieve anything I wanted.

Yet I hated (REALLY hated)* university; I detested the Journalism course I had fallen into when I missed out on a Law placement; and after finishing the introductory Journalism units and kicking that stream aside, I was mortified by what passed as “English” in a department in which I nonetheless completed a double major, and livid at a Government department in which if I wasn’t a Socialist I was shit beneath certain lecturers’ feet.

Ultimately I dropped out of the university; my $10,000 Hawke/Dawkins/Keating era HECS debt is paid, but I have no degree and in the eyes of Labor Party policymakers, no value as a human being.

You see, university degrees make you human, when you’re the “Education Party.”

But applying for jobs…answering advertisements 20 years ago for positions I know now mandated no more than a bit of common sense and an ability to turn up every day required a degree (and preferably a post-graduate qualification) and an impeccable academic record.

Even in sales and marketing, where I’ve earned my living for most of the 19 years since leaving the university…I love the advertising and media industry, and it’s not for the stupid or the meek; but it is also a place where a level head, a healthy dose of common sense, and a refusal to tolerate fools is far more valuable than a piece of paper from a university ever will be.

But there’s nothing wrong with me; I’m still the smartest bloke floating around, viewed one way; I’m vastly employable, have a nice little family, have intelligent interests, and a lot of friends just as smart as I am who provide vital intellectual stimulation, nourishment, and lots of discussion.

Why would I need a degree?

It seems to be more of a salient question than I’d realised until today, because finally — finally — other people are talking about it too.

It’s a simple fact that some people aren’t cut out for formal education; people who want to be hairdressers, tradesmen and the like have nothing wrong with them.

They just don’t belong in a school, and so many of them nowadays finish year 12 because they feel they have to, only to commence apprenticeships they could have begun two years earlier (and made far more productive use of their time than sitting in a classroom).

I’m someone who is suited to formal education, but ended up in the wrong course (if anyone can explain to me why Maths/Science results should be considered for entry into a Law course — whose only prerequisite subject is English, which I have always had well-covered — please explain it to me)!

And speaking personally again, today it’s too late — life has zoomed me off into other directions, and responsibilities as a husband and a father are prohibitive of a return to study for three or four full-time years (and three or four full-time years of earning either nothing, or the pittance that is Austudy — if I’d even qualify for it).

There are an awful lot of young kids trapped in the education system — that’s right, trapped — with no academic aptitude whatsoever, no interest in their curriculum, and no prospects of achieving much more from high school than a cataclysmic bomb-out.

But rather than lording it over these kids to finish year 12 (as if it were some task fundamentally essential to the propagation of life or something), I think Tony Abbott is right: some of them shouldn’t be there, but equally, there are other things available to those kids that can make them every bit as successful in the world, in their own way, than the kid who is able to become a lawyer.

The Howard government made a big investment in apprenticeship training schemes; I think Abbott’s discussion on the issue probably seeks to build on that.

Vocational education — as opposed to academic education — is a noble thing; who’d have ever thought the ALP would vacate this ground, and that the Liberal Party, as it has done for nearly ten years, become the chief advocate in Australia of the tools and the trades?

And let’s at least make mention of the kids who do finish year 12, bypass any further education, and go off to brilliant careers in service industries, sales, or private enterprise: these are instinctive pursuits, not academic ones.

Doubtless I’ll get pilloried for a) alleged anti-Education opinion, and b) for defending Tony Abbott’s musings on this issue.

But a little bit of common sense goes a constructively long way, and from that perspective, I’m very happy to see this issue surface.

Simply stated, kids who want to work but are naturally unsuited to academic education have alternatives, and those alternatives should not be denied, deferred or fudged in the dubious name of portraying “year 12 retention figures” as some sort of poster achievement.

In closing — and just for the record — the ALP (in Treasurer Wayne Swan’s “mid-term budget outlook” or, simply, mini-budget) today cut $241 million out of university funding over the next four years.

I’ll bet the student rent-a-crowd that always mobilises against Liberal governments will remain silent, and at home.

But it illustrates the point that even the “Education Party” takes its “responsibilities” in this area expediently, and is all too ready to sink the knife when it thinks its own credibility and prospects of survival are threatened.

What a sick hoax. What hypocrisy. And what a joke!

*Tony Glad, Tony Thwaites, Colin Hughes, Chris Tiffin and Joan Mulholland…you are exempt from this analysis.