Tony Abbott has laid out his policy alternatives to make the next election “winnable” for the Coalition, in a provocative speech that again highlights his differences with Malcolm Turnbull.
The former prime minister said the government should say to the people of Australia that it would cut the renewable energy target, reduce immigration, scrap the Human Rights Commission, stop all new spending, and reform the Senate via a referendum held with the next election.
Launching Making Australia Right, a book of essays by conservatives edited by James Allan, Abbott brought together a number of proposals he has previously argued for.
He took aim at the government’s current signals about the future direction of its energy policy, and attacked its preservation of the 23% renewable energy target, which was negotiated in his time as prime minister.
“The government is now talking about using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to subsidise a new coal-fired power station – creating, if you like, a base-load target to supplement the renewable target,” he said.
“We subsidise wind to make coal uneconomic so now we are proposing to subsidise coal to keep the lights on. Go figure.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to abolish subsidies for new renewable generation and let ordinary market forces do the rest?”
“Of course that would trigger the mother of all brawls in the Senate, but what better way to let voters know that the Coalition wants your power bill down, while Labor wants it up?”
Abbott said the government’s challenge was “to be worth voting for” and to “win back the people who are giving up on us.”
“In or out of government, political parties need a purpose. Our politics can’t be just a contest of toxic egos or someone’s vanity project.”
The next election was “winnable”, he said, outlining the pitches he saw as needed to secure that win.
“If we stop pandering to climate change theology and freeze the RET, we can take the pressure off power prices.”
“If we end the ‘big is best’ thinking of the federal Treasury, and scaled back immigration - at least until housing starts and infrastructure have caught up - we can take the pressure off home prices.”
“If we can take our own rhetoric about budget repair seriously and avoid all new spending and cut out all frivolous spending, we will start to get the deficit down.”
“If we refuse to be the ATM for the states, there might finally be some micro-economic reform of our public education and public health systems.”
“If we stopped funding the Human Rights Commission and leave protecting our liberties to the parliament, the courts and a free press where they belong, we might start to look like the defenders of western civilisation that we aspire to be.”
Speaking on Sky, Abbott said that “plainly there are lots of people concerned about our direction” and warned “the risk is we will drift to defeat if we don’t lift our game.”
He also criticised Turnbull’s decision to stay in his own home in Sydney.
“I think it would be a better look if the Prime Minister did live in Kirribilli House,” he said. He understood Turnbull not wanting to be a burden on the taxpayer but “by trying to avoid being a burden to the taxpayer, in the end, you end up costing the taxpayer more.”
When he was prime minister Abbott was reluctant to move from his own home to Kirribilli but was persuaded to do so.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra