NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Tony Abbott's faux pas alienates allies
, March 20, 2010
Since winning the leadership of the Liberal Party from Malcolm Turnbull last December, Tony Abbott has restored the Coalition's battered morale by a highly disciplined performance highlighting the Rudd Government's ideological obsession with climate change and its maladministration of the national stimulus package, particularly the waste of billions of dollars on school renovations and the home-insulation fiasco.
Now Mr Abbott has deeply alienated many of his supporters by walking away from his previously-stated position on the abortion issue, and by unveiling a paid parental leave scheme which will subsidise working mothers while doing nothing for mothers who care full-time for their children at home.
In relation to abortion, Mr Abbott's views are very well known. In 2004, when Minister for Health, he said, "Why isn't the fact that 100,000 women choose to end their pregnancies regarded as a national tragedy approaching the scale, say, of Aboriginal life expectancy being 20 years less than that of the general community?"
Later he criticised the "bizarre double standard" which makes a person who kills a woman's unborn child guilty of homicide, but regards abortion as a woman's choice.
When he was Health Minister in the Howard Government, his colleagues humiliated him by supporting a conscience vote which removed from the Health Minister control over the availability of the abortion drug, RU-486.
Despite his well-known views, it remains a question which media interviewers repeatedly ask him, although they already know the answer.
It was therefore no surprise when, in a recent profile on the Channel 9 program 60 Minutes
, Liz Hayes said of Mr Abbott, "But it's his conservative Catholic views that most concern his critics, who fear his religion could influence his politics."
She asked him, "Do you approve of abortion?" Tony Abbott replied, "I guess in the end I'm a bit like Bill Clinton on this matter, who said that he thought it should be safe, legal and rare. And I underline 'rare'."
The fact is that Tony Abbott's position is utterly different from that of Bill Clinton who supports abortion. (According to one of his former girlfriends, Clinton arranged her abortion.)
But the damage was done. Abbott's credibility with his social conservative base was seriously damaged, while his opponents' total opposition to him was unchanged.
The sad thing about his statement was that it was totally unnecessary.Paid parental leave
In relation to his surprise announcement that a future Liberal Government would support six months' paid parental leave, funded by a tax on large companies, Abbott was clearly trying to cut the ground from under the Rudd Government, which has announced that it will introduce a taxpayer-funded scheme of 18 weeks' parental leave, paid at the minimum wage rate.
As a political tactic, Abbott's plan is clearly more generous than Labor's, and might therefore help him get the votes of working mothers, particularly those on high incomes.
The Australian Family Association has calculated that, under Abbott, an employed mother on average weekly earnings would get over $31,000, compared to $13,400 under the Labor plan.
Of particular concern, however, is that paid parental leave discriminates deeply against the majority of mothers who are not in the paid workforce, but care for their children at home. They receive the $5,000 Baby Bonus, and just over $3,000 in Family Tax Benefit B, a total of just over $8,000.
The Abbott plan, like Rudd's, therefore discriminates against mothers who provide the optimal child-care for their children, by staying at home. The position of mothers who care for their own children is also believed to be under threat from the Henry tax review. The Labor Party opposed the Baby Bonus when in opposition.
If Mr Abbott were concerned about treating all mothers equally, he would pool all existing federal government outlays, including the massive subsidies to child-care centres, and reallocate them on an equal basis to all mothers, who would then have true freedom of choice as to whether to care for their own children, or pay to have someone else do the job for them.
Studies have repeatedly shown that most mothers want to care for their own children, and would choose to leave the workforce, or work only part-time, if this were a feasible option. As it is, many young families require two full-time incomes to meet the cost of buying their own home.
Among the most strident critics of the Abbott plan have been big businesses, which would have to pay for it. For years, they have been negotiating behind closed doors with the Rudd Government for the introduction of a paid parental leave scheme funded by all taxpayers.
It would be poetic justice if big business now had to bankroll a scheme which they sought to impose on the community.