Reinvention Time for Australia's Abbott
Comment of the Day

September 10 2013

Commentary by David Fuller

Reinvention Time for Australia's Abbott

Here are two samples from Bloomberg's editorial on Australia's new prime minister
If ever an election was lost not won, it was the weekend's vote in Australia. Exhausted by the Labor Party's feuding, the country ditched Kevin Rudd's government and elected the Liberal-National coalition led by Tony Abbott. The new prime minister, once seen as gaffe-prone and unelectable, has said he'll grow into the role. He'd better, or it won't be long before Australia regrets its choice.

To call the coalition's platform weak would be generous. Mostly, it was empty -- and its few specific ideas were notable for being bad ones.

Abbott has promised to scrap Australia's carbon-pricing program, rejecting the best approach to dealing with climate change. He's also said he'll scrap the mining tax, without saying what will replace it. And he's promised six months' paid maternity leave at taxpayers' expense -- while calling himself a fiscal conservative.

And from the conclusion:

With China's growth fading, Australia has to adjust -- and an uncharacteristically anxious country knows it. The fruits of the resources boom would have been better invested in a national fund to provide income in later years, but that wasn't done. With the tax base under threat, other taxes and cuts in public spending will have to bear the burden. At the same time, employment and investment have to shift from mining into new high-productivity export businesses. Far from advancing such a program, Abbott's proposals on carbon pricing and entitlements set things back.

Abbott is an easy man to underestimate: Rudd and Labor certainly made that mistake. The new prime minister is smart, and a serial self-reinventor: Rhodes scholar, priest-in-training, industrial manager, journalist, politician. In the past he's been clumsy and belligerent. However irresponsible, though, his campaign was disciplined and effective, and his critics aren't laughing now.

To be a good prime minister, Abbott will need to reinvent himself again -- drop the cheap populism, become the fiscal conservative he says he is, and lift his attention from short-term tactics to Australia's real challenges.

David Fuller's view I found the opening above and most of this editorial surprisingly harsh, OK, Abbott is not a 'smooth talking b******' but I find that a relief and also encouraging. I thought his campaign was wisely low-key, as it was obvious that Australians wanted to throw Labor out of office. The sporting photo-ops of probably the world's fittest government leader indicate discipline and the smiling pictures with his attractive wife and three daughters were reassuring.

I do not know enough about Australia's carbon-pricing programme to comment on it, but I always thought Labor's mining tax was a bad, anti-growth and anti-investment idea for the industry. Removing it satisfies my self-defined fiscal conservative side and the six months' paid maternity leave at taxpayers' expense appeals to my equally self-defined social liberal side.

Abbott has an interesting background and I prefer leaders who have some practical experience in the real world and are not career politicians. But I am too far away from Australia to understand the local scene. Fortunately, Fullermoney has some very knowledgeable Australian subscribers so I would love to know what you think of Abbott and the change of government. Naturally, I will share some of these with the Collective of Subscribers, many of whom are likely to have an investment interest in Australia.

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