By Kerr, Christian | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2009 | Go to article overview
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Kerr, Christian, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

We have to be careful not to reprise Big Government Conservatism.

Tony Abbott's ascension to the Liberal leadership is a victory for conservatism, but will it be a victory for big government conservatism too?

The new opposition leader denounced Kevin Rudd's emission trading scheme in his very first press conference as 'a great big slush fund to provide politicised handouts run by giant bureaucracy.' But that sounds a little like some of Abbott's policies for families.

"The Howard era should be the yardstick against which the Rudd government is judged but it won't be the blueprint on which the next Coalition government is modelled,' Abbott told the National Press Club last July. Here's hoping. Because the new opposition leader is linked to some of the Howard government's more regrettable tendencies.

Malcolm Turnbull was an odd breed of politician. He was portrayed as a latte liberal when, truth is told, he was a latte libertarian. He proved that at the end of his first year in parliament when he released a tax reform paper with 279 options for a simpler, more efficient, taxation system with lower rates. If John Howard had taken Turnbull's ideas on board Kevin Rudd may have never been able to claim he was an economic conservative. There would have been far sharper product differentiation between the two main parties.

The left spent most of the Howard years complaining about the government's neo-liberalism. Kevin Rudd has taken the attack to a whole new plane. The irony is immense, for John Howard never truly trusted Australians with their own money. Instead, he offered bribes to key demographics; bribe after bribe - piddling, bureaucratic bribes. Bribes that ended up stretching voters' credulity. By the dying days of the last campaign his spending commitments were simply an embarrassment. He trashed his strongest suit: economic credibility.

Little seems to have improved since then. Indeed, matters may be worse. Long term polling has had Labor's two party preferred vote hovering around the 56 per cent mark, a swing of more than three percentage points since the 2007. If replicated at an election, it would deliver about 20 seats to the ALP, assuming a uniform swing. But Labor needs only about half of this to pick up a swag of seats as the Coalition holds 17 seats by margins of 1.5 per cent or less, and a dozen by less than one per cent.

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