Australian Government and Abbott’s mission

Australian Government and Abbott’s mission, by Ross Fitzgerald.

As Adam Smith once observed, in most nations there’s often a lot of ruin. His point was that it takes much more than a short period of bad government to inflict major damage on a strong country.

In a well-developed civil society, very little requires the express say-so of government. People are always trying to improve their lot, and largely succeeding, even when the government of the day is consistently getting it wrong. That said, government matters because it sets the framework within which people make their own decisions. A government that over-burdens its citizens diminishes their ability to make the best choices and, over time, generates sustained national decline.

For 25 years, under prime ministers Hawke and Howard, Australia was essentially well governed. The leading members of those governments had sufficient character to keep their personal ambitions in check, or at least not to let them interfere with the pursuit of a strong policy agenda. …

Malcolm Turnbull has an opinion poll deficit, not because his predecessor is undermining him, but because he’s dumped the Liberal party’s core principles. The Coalition won the 2013 election promising to cut spending, cut taxes and end Labor’s climate change obsessions. With a post-Finkel Report Clean Energy Target looming, the government is doing the exact opposite. …

Apart from the fact that his regicide of Abbott was a massive blunder, Turnbull should never have adopted Labor’s Gonski schools policy. He shouldn’t have abandoned his predecessor’s pledge not to make adverse changes to superannuation. He shouldn’t have alienated business with a bank tax. It shouldn’t have taken him so long to discover that national security is not just the first task of government but important political equity for the Coalition. He shouldn’t have run an election campaign on a vacuous slogan and ignored Labor’s weaknesses on power prices, border protection and union control.

A mistake that might still be rectified is his failure to put Tony Abbott into Cabinet, but magnanimity seems quite beyond him. …

The best contribution that Abbott can now make is to stay on the backbench where he can legitimately articulate policy stances that discourage Coalition defections to fringe conservative parties. …

The medium future:

A decade back, after a quarter century of effective government, Australia was one of the world’s most successful countries. Now we can’t even look across the Tasman without embarrassment.

Unfortunately, it’s almost certain to get worse before it gets better. Our next federal Labor government will have more in common with Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders than with Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. There will be more taxing, more spending, and a much more intrusive nanny state. A serious brain drain and capital flight will only be avoided if comparable countries are making similar mistakes.