Why Tony Abbott is a political base jumper

Sunday Telegraph, 31/01/2010

Base jumping is about as extreme as it gets. It’s exciting. It’s dangerous. You can’t turn away when you see it on TV, probably because you know one day it’s going to end badly.

Tony Abbott is a political base jumper. Think about it:

Base jumpers are crazy brave. So is Tony. Who else would have attacked asbestos victim Bernie Banton before the last election?

Base jumpers go where others fear to tread. Tony still says “we got it right on WorkChoices”.

And base jumpers never look back. Mmmm, maybe he’s not a base jumper. Tony has said the Howard Government will be remembered as the “the golden age of compassion”.

The point is Tony Abbott has some pretty extreme views. He thinks climate change is “absolute crap” and Bronwyn Bishop is the future of the Liberal Party.

So what should we expect when the base jumper lands at the despatch box this week? Here’s a few predictions:

1. Expect Tony Abbott to oppose everything that Kevin Rudd says or does
2. Expect him to talk a lot about tax and emissions trading – usually in the same sentence, and
3. Expect the Government to stay focused on the economy

Here’s one for the history buffs. Next month is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address. This was Lincoln’s first big speech in an election year, the one that made him the 16th President of the United States, and changed that country forever.

Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott’s first speeches this year might not be as momentous, but they do tell us a lot about the year that lies ahead.

Kevin Rudd’s first speech this year was about the economy. Tony Abbott’s was about climate change and the environment.

Sound familiar? Rewind 12 months. Last year the Prime Minister’s first speech was also about the economy. It set the platform for the government’s economic stimulus plan that stopped Australia going into recession and saved thousands of jobs.

Like Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull’s first speech last year was also about the climate change – but for very different reasons.

Turnbull’s first speech in 2009 attacked the government’s climate change plan and explained how he would tackle it with bio char and making buildings more energy efficient. It was all about appeasing the extremists in the Liberal Party he was so right to be afraid of.

Tony Abbott focused on climate change in his first speech this year for a different reason. He is not trying to appease anyone. He wants a fight, and he wants it on this issue. Here’s why:

Remember in July last year Tony Abbott was saying the Liberals should vote for the ETS. What changed his mind? He gives us the answer in an opinion piece he wrote for The Australian in October last year: “a few months ago, the Liberals best bet seemed to be getting the ETS off the agenda and concentrating on debt and deficit”.

In other words, attack the government on one issue – the economy. When the economic stimulus plan stopped Australia going into recession this became impossible. The Liberals had to change tack. They needed another issue to campaign on – and they chose climate change. That’s why Turnbull was killed off, and that’s why Abbott will bang this drum from now until election day. It’s not about policy. It’s all about politics.

So what will the government do? We will stay focused on the economy. The drop in unemployment to 5.5 per cent is good news, but there is still a lot more work to do.

We are doing a lot better than America and Europe where unemployment is 10 percent, but there are still too many people unemployed – 118,000 more than this time last year. In places like Bankstown in my electorate, unemployment is close to 10 per cent. Teenage full-time unemployment in Bankstown is over 45 per cent. That’s why the economic stimulus is so important.

In two weeks I am running a Jobs Expo at Bankstown Town Hall with 80 local employers offering more than 800 jobs – one of more than 16 Job Expos I am running around the country in the next few months in places doing it tough. It is part of the government’s economic stimulus plan.

These are the kind of things that would stop if the base jumper lands in the Lodge. Tony Abbott has said he will kill the economic stimulus and bring WorkChoices back to life under a different name.

Sound a bit scary? A bit extreme? What else would you expect from a political base jumper.