Gift of the gab needed

Tony Abbott could hammer the final few nails into Labor’s political coffin.

OPPOSITION leader Tony Abbott could hammer the final few nails into Labor’s political coffin by delivering a strong, stirring speech in the next few months.

His speech would need to hammer home a clear vision for the nation’s future and inspire approval and following from the growing percentage of undecided voters.

Under extreme pressure to prove his leadership credentials and show the nation he’s a credible alternative to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Mr Abbott will need to ensure his talk doesn’t misfire.

An embarrassing gaffe or slip of the tongue would leave him and the Coalition with more than a bruised thumb to recover from with a major leadership transplant a likely outcome.

Mr Abbott must also outline some definitive policy inspiration and direction, to fill what’s seen as a gaping void in his party’s management and leadership credentials.

He’s been hitting and hammering the government over its unpopular Carbon Tax, association with the Greens and Independents and other key issues like the Treasurer’s political quest for an idealistic budget surplus and snap live cattle trade suspension to Indonesia last year.

But so far he’s presented very few, inspiring policy alternatives.

One inspiration could be a bold vision for developing northern Australia and building infrastructure that would underpin the region’s abundant water supplies and fertile growing conditions, to position the nation’s agricultural sector for meeting future food demand in the Asian region.

Labor’s improved polling performances this year can be linked to steadily releasing various policies like Ms Gillard’s vision for the nation through the Asian Century, in a white paper which contained strong incentives and opportunities for the farming and rural sector.

But Labor’s primary vote has now stalled while the Coalition’s primary vote remains consistently higher and in an election winning position.

This week’s Nielsen poll put the government’s primary vote steady again at 34 percent - well up from its record low of 26 percent in this term - but not high enough to win an election.

The Coalition’s two-party ­preferred vote improved marginally to 53 percent with Labor at 47 percent.

Despite the ongoing unpopularity of her party, Ms Gillard remains well ahead of Mr Abbott as the nation’s preferred leader.

Mr Abbott’s personal rating remains nervously low with 36 percent approval and 60 percent disapproval.

In contrast, Ms Gillard’s approval rating was unchanged at 47 percent and disapproval 48 percent.

Diplomatic visits to the US, India, Afghanistan this year, and Cambodia for trade talks this week, have bolstered her public perception as a leader of note, appearing at ease alongside others on the world stage.

The nation’s overall economic performance is also reflecting well on Ms Gillard and her government.

In addition, the rampant calls for an election or change of government, which besieged the nation after the 2010 election and leading up the Carbon Tax’s introduction, have died down into little more than a dull roar, with a full term now seeming inevitable.

Another issue causing doubt in voters’ minds is the Coalition’s lack of an effective counter-attack to the government’s ongoing personal claims against Mr Abbott, including well-publicised allegations of sexism and misogyny.

Political analysts would suggest if that trend of doubt continues any longer and lingers into the new-year, voters may well decide to stick with the current government and lose faith in the Coalition as being a viable alternative.

At times, Mr Abbott appears like a lone crusader fighting the government, lacking strong and unambiguous support from his front benchers and others including former leader Malcolm Turnbull who’s looking more and more like the Coalition’s version of Kevin Rudd each day.

However, there’s a prevailing view that the Coalition would provide an alternative form of government with stronger economic management credentials and posses greater capacity to deliver tighter spending regimes and lower taxes.

That said, the shadow treasurer and other key frontbenchers seem to be missing in action, especially during critical battles where they could fire well aimed shots at the Greens for influencing unpopular government policies and spending, like the Carbon Tax.

For the plan to reach full potential, the National party must also show its capacity to back Mr Abbott’s messages and march out into rural Australia and farming communities showing clear commitment to the same goals and aspirations.

In response to this week’s polling, opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne backed his leader and showed he understood the challenge by saying the government’s “slag and bag” policy of the last three months simply hasn’t worked.

“In the last three months they have thrown everything including the kitchen sink at Tony Abbott to try and destroy him personally and politically,” he said.

“Now, he’s held up in the face of a barrage of personal vilification.

“The Government’s also created a blizzard of announcements.

“Spending announcements of money they simply don’t have.

“Spending announcements where people think money is going to be spent where it isn’t.

“There’s been an absolute, veritable blizzard of new issues created since the carbon tax came in because the Government wants to get the agenda off cost of living and off job security.

“But the truth is Labor’s primary vote has flat-lined and continues to flat-line because the public know this is a poor Government that is taking our country down the Irish road economically and it’s one we need to change.”

Mr Pyne said the Labor Party’s spin has been that their campaign has been working.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, he said.

“On election day I’m very confident the public will put aside the campaign of personal vilification and vote on the issues,” he said.

“Cost of living rising, the carbon tax broken promise, job security, the Prime Minister’s integrity, boats and border protection and economic management.

“They’ll be the issues that will dominate the election.

“Labor has tried to make the issue Tony Abbott and they are not succeeding.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Canberra CommentFairfax Agricultural Media Canberra correspondent Colin Bettles tackles the big national rural and agricultural issues which will impact regional and rural Australians.


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