Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has not had an easy time transitioning from strong opposition leader to good Prime Minister. Picture: SMH
The Abbott government marked its second anniversary of winning office on September 7th. Yet arguably Australia’s best opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has transitioned to become what many would perceive as one of the country’s worst prime ministers. Over the past 24 months, Australians have witnessed many mixed messages on domestic policy with little actual achievements other than the reversal of previous Labor government policies. As seen with Tony Abbott’s rhetoric most recently on display in an ABC interview with Leigh Sales; stopping the boats, repealing the carbon and mining taxes are – in the Prime Minister’s own words – his achievements.
After surviving a potential challenge to his leadership in February this year, Abbott’s statement of “good government starts today” – by in large continues to be a running joke inside his administration. The disgruntlement among many of the coalition’s own front and back benches continues to be rife and troublesome for Tony Abbott.
Although the Abbott government has tried to shift the focus to national security and the economy by highlighting jobs and growth through small-business tax incentives and a number of free trade agreements with Australia’s regional trading partners in the past six months, this is really the least that any government could do. And who can forget Treasurer Joe Hockey’s infamous and poorly-sold 2014 budget that claimed the existence of a budget emergency as the grounds for harsh austerity measures. Despite the treasurer’s proclamations of the end of the age of entitlement, the government has done little to cut inter-generational inequality whilst indirectly pushing for increases to the goods and services tax (GST).
A sign that the Abbott government has even lost touch with conservative roots can be observed through its handling of environmental challenges and climate change: both issues have only seen minimalist yet expensive and hollow solutions. However, the decisions of Abbott and the government have also seemingly denied its liberal philosophy on issues such as asylum seekers whom need better treatment, same-sex marriage which arguably deserves a conscience vote, and the role of government as ‘big brother’ through changes to metadata laws. On the campaign for constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, despite taking an initial step back, the Abbott government has stepped in the right direction, although much more can be done to reduce inequality between the different demographics in the country.
With Abbott seemingly out of touch with the domestic affairs of Australia, it comes as little surprise that Julie Bishop has been able to be a staring performer as Foreign Minister through her involvement at the United Nations. The Prime Minister’s limited involvement in foreign affairs has been tainted by his handling of the downing of MH17, where he threatened to shirtfront Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as issuing a threatening reminder to Jakarta of Australia’s aid contribution to Indonesia in the time leading up to the execution of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.
The Abbott government’s approach to refugees has received strong criticism both domestically and in South East Asia with the decision to arrange refugee resettlement in Cambodia and inaction to aid the minority Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Despite some contribution to humanitarian assistance in the Middle East with government’s announcement to accept 12,000 Syrian refugees and undertaking of airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Tony Abbott has taken a step in right direction although much more needs to be done both internationally and domestically in Australia.
On 14 September 2015, Tony Abbott was defeated by Malcolm Turnbull in a Liberal Party leadership challenge 44 to 54 votes. Abbott is Australia’s shortest serving Prime Minister except for the drowned Harold Holt. He was in office for 1 year and 360 days and the first first term Liberal Prime Minister to be dumped by the party.
This article was first published in The Typewriter