A lesson on principles from the Abbott Government

September 06, 2018

On Friday 6 September 2013, the night before the federal election, then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott created a clear case study on principle by saying on live television his government would make "No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST, and no cuts to the ABC or SBS."

In so doing, whatever short-term electoral gains that might have been achieved the next day were undermined by the long-term pain brought by those commitments.

The Abbott Coalition in opposition had slayed a hapless Gillard government for breaking a key election promise that "There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead."

Mr Abbott had succeeded in knocking off two sitting Prime Ministers - Mr Rudd, and Ms Gillard - and built a strong foundation of support by clearly marking out the ideological 'Battlelines' between the two parties of government with no 'out' of discovering a later budget 'black hole' (see further details below). 

Mr Abbott's comments that fateful Friday night cracked the principled cornerstone the Coalition government had created - namely, being a fiscally responsible government that would fix Labor's debt and deficit disaster.

The eleventh-hour 'no cuts' line created a fiscal and rhetorical strait-jacket for Mr Abbott's incoming government. The line was repeated by Labor ad nauseum in the media and parliament as new leader Bill Shorten jackhammered away at the government's credibility.

With its foundation undermined, Mr Turnbull was able to seize control of a crumbling government to pursue his personal aspirations. He could do little to stop the electoral rot and was himself replaced by Mr Morrison as the government fell into the same disrepair, disunity and fiscal mess of the Labor government they had replaced. 

Mark this lesson in dumping principle for electoral expediency by:

  • viewing the footage of Mr Abbott's 'no cuts' pledge to SBS News (also embedded below)
  • viewing then PM Gillard’s “no carbon tax” pledge on the doorstep of the August 2010 Federal election
  • reviewing the Conservative Party's policy platform for getting the budget back in the black
  • refreshing oneself on Malcolm Turnbull’s late-May 2014 dinner at the Wild Duck restaurant in Canberra with companions Martin Parkinson and Clive Palmer
  • perusing the recommendations and commentary in the comprehensive National Commission of Audit report, which the 2014 Budget (Abbott’s first) drew significantly from - and attracted criticism directed at the infamous 'no cuts' pledge,  and/or
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, conservatives and those wanting politicians to hold their nerve, stick to their principles, secure clear mandates and budget responsibly.

Further details

Having clearly outlined the case against the Gillard government for breaking its core carbon tax pledge, the Abbott government could not claim that 'unforeseen circumstances' in office justified them backtracking on their own 'no cuts' pledge. If Ms Gillard's landing in a minority government scenario and negotiations with the Greens for a carbon tax was unacceptable, neither would a discovery of a budget 'black hole' justify a reversal on 'no cuts'.

But it gets worse.

The Abbott opposition had mounted clear and well-founded scepticism of the remarkably rosy Budget forward estimates that Labor was supposedly leaving behind (signed off in the 2013 PEFO by then Treasury Secretary and chronic “unconscious bias” sufferer Martin Parkinson).

Abbott’s “no cuts” pledge and context gave the Coalition no 'out' when the highly-suspected budget 'black hole' was officially revealed (just three months later in the 2013 MYEFO).

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