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Tony Abbott’s made a world of change in 80 days

23 February 2010 1,451 views No Comment

THE adventures of Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s 1873 novel ‘Around The World In Eighty Days’, remind us of the epic journey that lies ahead for Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Fogg accepted a wager that required him to circumnavigate the globe, by whatever transport means then available, in a seemingly impossible 80 days.

Fogg and his valet, Passepartout, set off from London on an improbable adventure overcoming all manner of obstacles to arrive back home with just minutes to spare to collect on the bet.

As Abbott and Julie Bishop notch up their first 80 days as the new Opposition leadership team, the odds that they can pull off an election win are shortening. As unlikely as it seemed only two months ago, they may get there in time.

Abbott and Bishop know this is their chance to make history. They have at best a few months to convince the public that the Rudd Government has not earned a second term.

Since Abbott assumed the leadership from Malcolm Turnbull last December, the Opposition Leader and his deputy have criss-crossed the country to reinvigorate the Liberal Party base and sell the Coalition message.

Verne described Fogg’s demeanour as “repose in action”. The same could be said of the Coalition leadership. Both Abbott and Bishop are fit and focused on the task. When Parliament rose after two promising weeks for the Opposition, Abbott flew to Darwin to talk about the Government’s broken promise on border protection and Bishop flew to Eyre Peninsula to discuss the Government’s broken promise that no worker would be worse off under its new workplace laws.

They joined forces in Perth to fund-raise from a mining and resource sector that is becoming disgruntled with the union militancy and industrial action flourishing under Julia Gillard’s new workplace laws.

Abbott and Bishop are keen to maintain the momentum that is evident from polls showing voter dissatisfaction with Labor, particularly in Western Australia and Queensland where they can pick up several seats in this year’s federal election, as well as NSW.

Abbott is not afraid to challenge Labor orthodoxy. Having been warned that the Coalition would be wiped out in any election where climate change was an issue, Abbott rightly dismissed Rudd’s complex, costly and unwieldy emissions trading scheme as a “great big new tax”.

There are parallels with Rudd’s climate-change policy and the Howard Government’s WorkChoices.

Rudd came to the Opposition leadership in late 2006 with the Howard Government struggling to explain its complex WorkChoices laws.

Abbott came to the Opposition leadership with the Rudd Government struggling to explain its complex climate-change policy. When Abbott released his easy to understand direct-action climate-change policy, Rudd defaulted to supercilious modesty, gently chiding himself for not communicating more effectively on how his cap and trade scheme would work.

Predictably the unions are gearing up for another Rights At Work campaign against the Coalition.

There is no doubt the Howard government failed in countering the last campaign during the election.

However, this time the public will be wondering why the unions have been silent on reports of students losing after-school jobs due to the inflexibility of Julia Gillard’s new awards.

Gillard has had little to say about the recent strikes in WA and the reminder of the bad old days of industrial disputation in the Pilbara that damaged our productivity levels and trade reputation.

With an effective Coalition assault on the Government’s record of broken election promises in health and education and Peter Garrett’s badly misplaced priorities in the roll out of his home insulation program, the Government is clearly rattled.

The Government is working overtime to label Abbott as an arch-conservative whose views on social issues will alienate women. Current polling indicates the Government has overestimated anti-Abbott sentiment among female voters.

Despite winning the leadership contest by a single vote, with Bishop’s help Abbott has united the Coalition party room behind him. Abbott has the advantage of hitting the ground running without having to look over his shoulder.

Deputy Bishop has been an effective conduit with the backbench. She took the time to canvass all Coalition members and senators about their views on the Government’s climate-change policy. Turnbull ignored their views. Abbott heeded them.

The Coalition has passed through the fire of three leadership battles and is now becoming hardened for the election contest. There are still challenges ahead.

The choice of Barnaby Joyce as Opposition finance spokesman is a test for Abbott. Joyce has put debt firmly on the national agenda and if he can get his lines right he will be a formidable asset particularly in rural WA and Queensland where he is well placed to challenge Rudd and Swan on budget management.

Abbott should use the next 80 days to put out more policy ideas before the Government’s election budget is delivered. His first 80 days have taken many by surprise.

The Daily Telegraph February 23, 2010