Weird and graceless. Shorten’s description of Abbott’s G20 address to world leaders was spot on. We all know that Abbott doesn’t perform well at public speaking. And we never expected him to say anything inspiring, intelligent or even informative at the G20. It’s not like he was going to admit he’d been wrong about climate policy and could Obama and Xi Jinping please help him to fix his faults. No, what we expected was for him to be uninspiring, unintelligent, and to say not much at all. Like he usually does. Because let’s face it, we’re used to three word slogans repeated slowly, spread out amongst ahh, err, arh, urms ad nauseam. But that’s not what we got from Abbott yesterday. Surprisingly, we got worse than this. Which is why it’s worth taking a closer look at what he actually did say.
The closest I’ve seen to criticism of the speech from the mainstream media, who surprisingly unwrapped Abbott from his Teflon coated bubble wrap for a millisecond to give him some negative feedback, was that the speech was more suited for a domestic audience than a meeting of world leaders. This is true, but was by far the least worst thing about what Abbott actually said. As a member of that domestic audience for whom the speech was apparently targeted, I found it highly offensive. Not just partisan, immature, whingey, unbecoming of a Prime Minister, badly delivered and embarrassing to the country. Look at what he actually said and I think you’ll be offended too:
‘Two issues in particular that I lay before my colleague leaders: we have tried to deregulate higher education, universities, and that’s going to mean less central government spending and effectively more fees that students will have to pay. We think that this will free up our universities to be more competitive amongst themselves and more competitive internationally but students never like to pay more.’
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought Pyne’s argument was that deregulation of university fees would make fees less expensive? Pyne has also argued that his policy is a ‘good deal’ for students, although this was clearly never the case. How is it a good deal to be paying more for something and having to pay interest you previously didn’t pay, whilst getting the exact same product you used to get? But the point is, Abbott’s government always argued that this policy was about improving the university sector – not about balancing the budget. Yet yesterday, Abbott was using this policy failure (let’s call a spade a spade that has failed to get through the Senate) as one of the reasons he’s finding those revolting peasants in his kingdom so terribly hard to force into line. Because students ‘never like to pay more’. Apparently Abbott’s budget woes are nothing to do with his and Hockey’s incompetence and are instead apparently all university students’ fault and their sense of entitlement that they should be able to get an education without taking out a mortgage on their future. An education, by the way, that benefits the long term economic success of Abbott’s precious economy. Not that Abbott seems to be able to put two and two together in this way. Abbott hadn’t finished yet though, because it wasn’t just the students who were to blame. It was also the sick.
‘The other reform that has proven very, very difficult for us is to try to inject more price signals into our health system. For a long time most Australians who went to see a doctor have been seen at no charge and we would like to see a $7 co-payment for people who are going to see the doctor. In most countries this is not unusual. In most countries, this is standard that the doctor can charge a fee, but it is proving to be massively difficult to get this particular reform through the Parliament.’
Those pesky sick people and their sense of entitlement that they should be treated in a health system that they pay for through their taxes that was set up to look after all Australians from cradle to the grave. How dare these revolting peasants think they should be able to see a doctor for free when they are sick! But at the heart of this whole argument is that a ‘price-signal’ (you know, like the carbon tax was a price signal to reduce carbon pollution) will reduce visits to the doctor, and will therefore reduce the cost of this universal health sector, which is funded by Australians through our tax system. The only way this could ever possibly be the case is if Abbott believes that Australians aren’t really sick and are actually just whingey hypochondriacs who need to be put off from their whingey hypochondria through a price signal. Or, his government believes that poor people who can’t afford the $7 co-payment should put up with being sick and shouldn’t be treated for ailments that could become much worse if not treated, such as lumps that can become a range of life threatening cancers or a heart problem that could easily be treated before it becomes catastrophic heart failure. Perhaps Abbott would prefer the poor just died without costing his budget any money. See why I felt offended? I was also frustrated that Abbott forgot to mention that his great-big-GP-tax was not actually going to be used to fund a budget surplus. It was being used for a $20 billion research fund for use by the private research sector. At the same time as Abbott is cutting the apparently wasteful CSIRO. Funny the small facts Abbott chose to leave out of his grand whinge.
But ultimately, if you were really listening, you’ll have heard that it wasn’t just the students and the sick and hypochondriac Australians who are to blame for Abbott’s inability to fulfil one of his apparent four core promises to ‘get the Budget under control’. Because right up front, Abbott said this:
‘…it doesn’t matter what spending programme you look at, it doesn’t matter how wasteful that spending programme might appear, there are always some people in the community who vote, who love that programme very much’.
Get that people? It’s all of us voters who are so stupidly in love with government spending on programs that are just a complete waste of government spending. It’s all our fault that Abbott can’t balance his books! Us stupid voters refuse to let him send a wrecking ball through our civilised society that we have spent generations building! How dare we block his wrecking ball!
So yes, I was offended, as a member of the domestic audience that was the true target market for this speech. But once I had calmed down and thought about it for a moment, I realised that I was also incredibly proud of Australians. Abbott can blame us all he likes. But the fact of the matter is that the worst of Abbott’s budget – the parts that hit the most vulnerable hardest – like the GP co-payment, like Pyne’s assault on the higher education sector – are being blocked by our democratically elected leaders in the Labor Party, the Greens, various independents and low and behold, the Palmer United Party. So we might be dumb enough to elect Abbott in the first place, but I hope the world leaders, and those across the world who may have been tuning in, can see we’re not dumb enough to let him wreck the place, no matter how hard he might be trying.