Yes Prime Minister but next

Saturday, 01 February 2014

John M Green photo
John M Green

    John M Green reviews the Abbott government’s first five months and offers some suggestions.

    For five months, Australia’s been led by a new government and most of us — whoever we voted for — have enjoyed a reprieve from the toxicity that previously plagued Canberra. Suddenly, federal politics has become as eye-glazing as England’s Ashes performance, an equal relief. So what’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott done so far, and what more can he do?

    He does appear to have stopped the boats. He’s certainly stopped talking about them. What a turnaround: a government saying nothing, yet doing something.
    He’s also stopped the cars. He kept his promise and wiped away the $1.8 billion fringe benefits tax hit on company vehicles that weighed down the car industry, but even so, the industry is much lighter with Holden zooming off the freeway exit-ramp to head home. 

    We’ve concluded negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, so now we can look forward to them bringing in even more Hyundais and Kias and us sending them more Holdens. Oops, scrap the Holdens.

    During the election, Abbott promised he’d open up Australia for business but, in power, he promptly closed it to Archer Daniels Midland, blocking it from buying Graincorp. But we’re still open for business. Other business.

    He’s stopped the carbon and mining taxes, or at least he’s started to stop them. The repeal Bills have passed the Lower House and await Senate limbo-land. 

    The National Broadband Network got its board changed, was reviewed quicker than it could lay fibre down a city street and the public has learnt what it always suspected, that the already eye-watering $47 billion price tag actually didn’t include the onions.

    The Prime Minister created a Business Advisory Council. The consultation process Bob Hawke started as a productivity opportunity and Kevin Rudd ended as a photo opportunity has recommenced. Hooray.

    Abbott has also launched a Commission of Audit to identify waste, tackle duplication and provide taxpayers with better value for money. No disrespect, but how hard will that be? The really hard part will be “selling” myriad cutbacks to a long-suckled population including, ahem, business. The lobbying and bleating will be as intense as Abbott’s exercise regime. You might even find you’re doing it yourself.

    On foreign policy, Abbott really bugged the Opposition when his first overseas trip was to Indonesia. The irony was that when Labor was in power, it did the bugging, of the Indonesians. Brilliantly, Labor somehow convinced parts of the media to lay this security scandal at Abbott’s feet.

    We’ve got a new inquiry into our financial system which, by all accounts, is second to none, although, with the others largely basket cases maybe that’s not such a great comparison. The major economies, after screwing things up for themselves, us and the rest of the world, are busy reengineering their financial systems to avoid a repeat of what happened last time, as optimistic a notion as a 95-year-old buying long-life milk. A considered pro-Australian perspective is warranted and welcome.

    Hallelujah, too, to the proposed legislation repeal days. Australia has more laws than cicadas, but at least those little pests have the grace to die after they’ve done their duty. A sustained program to clean up our Acts, so to speak, is overdue.

    The new government has already done a lot, but what more can it do?

    Well, if Canberra has been our problem, it might also be our solution. What if Abbott flogged Canberra to, say, China for a whopper of a price? It would still be the ACT, but instead of the Australian Capital Territory, it’ll be the Australian Chinese Territory.

    He’d give the Chinese complete vacant possession by yanking every government department out of Canberra and replanting them strategically all around the country.

    Treasury he’d plant in Perth since that’s where all the money is, or was.

    Defence would shift to Queensland – to Clive Palmer’s resort – and instead of building submarines, it would build the Titanic, which might be much the same thing. (Do you recall former Prime Minister Rudd’s pre-election thought bubble to shift Sydney’s Garden Island naval dockyard to Brisbane? Clearly, he wasn’t thinking on a grand enough scale.)

    Vacating and selling off Canberra would give a massive stimulus to the economy. Treasury coffers stuffed with gazillions of Chinese renminbi — the deficit plugged instantly. Empty office towers round the country suddenly overflowing and spurring long booms in commercial real estate … service industries … the stock market. And what about all those temporarily homeless public servants? They’ll have to live somewhere in all our cities, so residential property and construction will boom even more.

    But most importantly, all these public servants will suddenly be forced to live outside their perfect, manicured, cosy Canberra bubble and get immersed, like the rest of us, in a messy, practical real world where the roads have potholes. Suddenly, some of their pretty policy theories might get a bigger dose of reality. Just a thought. Gotta zip.

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