December 12th 2009
Articles from this issue:
EDITORIAL: The challenges facing Tony Abbott
CANBERRA OBSERVED: Abbott's victory took media by surprise
NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Senate committee recommends against same-sex marriage
SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Euthanasia bill defeated in SA
ENVIRONMENT: UK's climate research centre discredited
ECONOMICS: Birdsville Amendment stops fuel predatory pricing
ENERGY: Time for a new Coalition emissions policy
THE MANHATTAN DECLARATION: U.S. Christian leaders draw a line in the sand
REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Women's health risk ignored by Rudd Government
UNITED STATES: Health care reforms unleash passionate debate
RUSSIA: Medvedev's desperate drive to modernise Russia
EDUCATION: Whatever happened to adult authority?
SCHOOLS: Are independent schools enemies of social cohesion?
Westmore has not read my report: Fr Frank Brennan
Morally handicapped politicians
Market economics misunderstood
AS THE WORLD TURNS
CINEMA: Dickens' Christmas tale brought to life A Christmas Carol (rated PG)
BOOK REVIEW: FIRES OF FAITH: Catholic England under Mary Tudor, by Eamon Duffy
BOOK REVIEW: THE REVOLT OF THE PENDULUM: Essays 2005-2008, by Clive JamesBooks promotion page
EDITORIAL: The challenges facing Tony Abbott
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, December 12, 2009
Tony Abbott was elected Liberal leader to defeat the Rudd Governments disastrous carbon tax legislation; but to succeed he will need to define a vision for Australia which distinguishes the Liberals from the Labor Party.
It was clear that if Malcolm Turnbull had remained leader, he would have divided the party irretrievably on the issue of support for the Rudd Governments new emissions tax and would have presided over what Senator Nick Minchin described as a "train wreck" at the next election.
Tony Abbott was a reluctant candidate. It was only the failure of Joe Hockey to declare unambiguously that he would oppose Rudds misnamed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and stand against Malcolm Turnbull as leader that forced Abbotts hand.
There never was any good reason why the Coalition should have supported an emissions tax, the burden of which will fall on Australian industry and businesses. If low-income earners are protected from the impact of the scheme, as Kevin Rudd proposes, then the burden will fall even more heavily on middle-income earners, as Professor Ross Garnaut, the Governments climate change expert, has repeatedly pointed out.
Abbotts narrow victory is a sign that a majority of his party want to go in a different direction.
For Kevin Rudd, the defeat of Malcolm Turnbull represents a problem, because Turnbulls presence as leader of the Opposition guaranteed Labor a second term of office.
Mr Rudds immediate temptation will be to call a double dissolution election to capitalise on the divisions which Turnbull created in the Liberal Party, both by his ferocious attacks on his Liberal Party colleagues, and by his "crash through or crash" declaration that he would not lead a party which did not support him on the emissions trading scheme.
For Mr Abbott to credibly face such an election, he will have to articulate to mainstream Australia a credible alternative to the Rudd Government an alternative which is pro-family and pro-business.
There are a number of issues which would enable him to do this, in addition to his opposition to Rudds emissions tax.
Tony Abbott should oppose the Reserve Banks recent decision to increase interest rates in Australia, which will cut the disposable income of the most vulnerable people in Australia, such as owners of small businesses and families with children.
It will also have the effect of pushing up the Australian dollar, damaging Australias exports and causing a further flow of "hot money" into Australia from overseas, encouraging further speculation on the Australian dollar.
Second, he should take a stronger stance against people-smuggling, by reinstating the Howard Governments policy of off-shore processing of asylum-seekers, which is far more humane that forcing them into detention centres in Indonesia or squeezing them like sardines into Christmas Island.
Third, he should promote policies which would address Australias foreign debt crisis, which even the heads of Australias biggest banks concede is unsustainable and a threat to the economy. He should aim at winding back the Rudd Governments stimulus package and reducing Australias dependence on imports, which has contributed to the countrys unsustainable balance of payments deficit.
Two measures here would have an immediate impact. The federal government should establish a national development bank which would raise capital for vital infrastructure works such as urgently-needed dams and reservoirs, telecommunications infrastructure including the national broadband network, base-load electricity generation, roads, rail and ports.
A development bank could also assist the expansion of the mining industry, to keep ownership in Australian hands and minimise reliance on investment from China.
In Australia, even governments lack the capacity to fund basic infrastructure works, which is why the Queensland government is trying to sell off existing infrastructure, and the NSW Labor government is trying to sell its power stations.
Additionally, the federal government should follow the example of New South Wales, and introduce a buy-Australian first policy, to provide an immediate boost to Australian manufacturers.
Australian retailers who introduce a similar policy should be given tax breaks by the federal government.
While this is regarded as economic heresy by devotees of free trade, the United States Congress adopted "Buy American" provisions in the economic stimulus package carried early this year. And the US Congress regularly affords direct subsidies to US agriculture, permitting it to undercut competitors (including Australia) in world markets.
This is an agenda which most Australians would unite behind. Mr Rudd himself might even adopt some of these policies.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.
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