Abbott’s first mistake
John Howard told The Punch at Friday’s Liberal Party get-together in Mosman that Tony Abbott “hasn’t put a foot wrong” since becoming Liberal Leader in December. It now looks like in the past 24 hours that Abbott has done just that.
The reaction from surprised business leaders, a cynical public and his own irritated MPs suggests that Mr Abbott’s maternity leave scheme is a poor bit of policy which has also been badly managed politically.
While business has a tendency to complain about any new cost that comes its way, and the public a habit of being cynical about everything, it’s the political mismanagement of the issue, which saw Mr Abbott offer a qualified apology to his own MPs today, which may have done the most damage. It certainly gave Labor its first good Question Time of the year, after weeks of drift and distraction over the insulation scandal, and successive drops in the polls in the backdraft of the failed ETS.
Kevin Rudd and his Ministers had a terrific time of it in Question Time today, seizing on the criticisms from the Business Council and the Retailers Association that the paid maternity model unveiled by Abbott yesterday on International Womens Day will jack up costs to consumers.
It obviously will. By proposing a 1.7 per cent levy on all businesses earning more than $5m a year, to generate a $2.7 billion pool for couples earning up to $150,000, it’s clear how business will try to offset the impost. In hip-pocket terms it will have the same effect on the public as a tax increase. For business, it is a tax increase.
The policy side of it is bad enough but the atmospherics inside today’s Party Room - where it emerged that even Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey was unaware of the detail of yesterday’s announcement - were even worse.
Wilson Tuckey - surprise, surprise - was one of the first MPs off the leash. Then there was the more telling intervention from the level-headed Riverina MP Kay Hull who said the scheme could create two tiers of mothers - the more affluent employed mums and the stay-at-home mums who exercised their valid choice to concentrate full-time of child-rearing with no corresponding support from Canberra.
All Abbott could do was defend his decision as “the leader’s call”, saying: “Sometimes it is better to ask forgiveness than permission”.
It’s bordering on the kind of imperiousness which helped destroy Malcolm Turnbull, who acted more like a CEO than a political leader and alienated many of his one-time supporters in the process. While it’s hardly irretrievable for Abbott it has been a messy 24 hours and it should be recorded as his first major stuff-up in what’s been an otherwise strong start as leader.
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