Article – Abbott eases into chair

14 September 2013
The West Australian
For three years Tony Abbott ran after any hint of weakness in the Labor government.
Mr Abbott would not stay still. He would grind out one step in front of the other, always with an eye on the finish line.
On the night of September 7, Tony Abbott crossed the finish line of his longest marathon some 1376 days after he started.
Yet the real race — that of government — is just beginning.
So what Mr Abbott, the man who goes for a pre-dawn bike ride or slips on running shoes for a 30-minute stretch, did next was a surprise.
Asked in a radio interview when Parliament would be recalled to deal with the “Budget emergency” or the destruction being wrought on the country by the carbon and mining taxes, the Prime Minister-elect declared: “It will be back towards the end of October early November.
“It’s important that the various pieces of legislation are ready to go before we get the Parliament back.
“My emphasis will be on being purposeful, methodical, calm and conscientious and the last thing I want to do is to rush the Parliament back for a photo opportunity before the substance of the work is there for it to do.”   Like any marathon runner, Mr Abbott had a plan for his race, and beyond.
Before the election, he had developed a plan for the first week, the first 100 days, the first term and even one for the next decade.
A week on from his crushing victory over Kevin Rudd and a dispirited ALP, what is most striking is the absence of outward action by the new Government.
Mr Abbott wound back an early pledge to visit Jakarta in his first week in office. And there’s no sign other “week one” promises have been met.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation was supposed to be told to stop issuing loans. Given the legal questions over whether a government can tell a statutory authority what to do, it always seemed unlikely that promise was going to be honoured.
Even announcing and swearing in a new ministry has been delayed because of uncertainty over the fate of some frontbenchers.
Whatever the early hiccups, it is clear Mr Abbott will bring to that first parliamentary sitting week his legislation to axe the carbon price.
With a strong majority in the House there will be no troubles getting that passed.
But with the Senate still in the hands of Labor and the Greens, there is a real chance a committee will be set up that will drag out and delay any decision.
A freeze on the public service hiring staff to replace retirements, departures and deaths starts from October 1.
That will run into other pledges made by the coalition in opposition.
The Abbott Government agenda is heavy with a raft of reviews.
That starts with the creation of a Commission of Audit that is also among Mr Abbott’s first-week commitments.
The audit, mirrored on an initiative of John Howard when he took power in 1996, is supposed to take a line-by-line approach to government spending. The 1996 audit, however, disappeared from view after it achieved the then government’s aim of belting the ALP over the head on debt.
Some of the recommendations of the 1996 audit included to review assistance to business and high-income earners, stop linking the age pension to 25 per cent of male average weekly earnings, and overhaul all family support programs including all non-means tested handouts.
Also on Mr Abbott’s agenda is a white paper on taxation (feeding off the 130-plus recommendations of the Henry tax review, bar the 40 or so already ruled out by the coalition) and on the development of northern Australia.
Then there is a host of Productivity Commission inquiries. It will have its work cut out with a reviews into child care and nannies, car industry assistance, private funding of infrastructure projects, industrial relations, structural changes to the economy, broadband policy, food security, road trauma and even the possible health effects of wind farms.
Somewhere along the line a “root and branch” examination of competition policy needs to get under way as well as a “son of Wallis” in-depth examination of the financial system.
None of this includes what may turn up in the first week of next month. The Parliamentary Budget Office has the job of reviewing every election policy announced by the major parties.
At the same time Treasury, which will use its own assumptions while factoring in information from the tax office and its business liaison program, will be running its ruler over the new Government’s promises.
What Treasury finds will ultimately be more important than the PBO’s analysis.
The budget office costs the policies but Treasury, and the rest of the public service, has to work out if some of these policies can even be implemented. Stopping asylum seeker boats and getting the Budget on track to a “believable surplus”, commitments by the next election, seem so far away.
Some time soon, Mr Abbott will have to start running again.
Courtesy of The West Australian