Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Very Naughty Boy

Is Tony Abbott the Messiah, or is he just a very naughty boy? Well, perhaps not the Messiah, but at least a prophet, leading his Liberal Party colleagues out of the political wilderness. Since taking over the leadership of his party late last year, Tony Abbott has miraculously resurrected the fortunes of the opposition, inspiring renewed fervor among his devoted followers. It’s little short of a miracle! Now, to further cement Tony Abbott’s status as a political prophet, it appears as if he has had a biblical experience akin to Saint Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.

Back when he was a Minister in the Howard Government, Tony Abbott dismissed the idea of paid parental leave with the expression “Over this government’s dead body!” or words to that effect. These were indeed prophetic words, because the corpse of the Howard Government has long since been laid to rest, and lo and behold today we have Tony Abbott not only embracing the idea of paid parental leave, but promising to outdo the plan put forward by the government.

Instead of 18 weeks, Tony Abbott is promising working families a full six months of paid leave to welcome a new baby. Instead of a payment equivalent to the minimum wage at $544 a week, Tony Abbott is promising to pay the individual’s usual wage, up to a maximum of $150 000 per annum. That’s more than $2800 a week. It is obviously a much more generous scheme than the one currently planned by the government. There’s only one problem. Instead of expecting taxpayers to pick up the tab, Tony Abbott plans to impose a levy on big business.

Mr. Abbott proposes to charge Australia’s top companies a levy of 1.7% on taxable income over $5 million. He insists that big business can afford it, and that they should pay up in the interest of being good corporate citizens. Big business has other ideas. While many in big business support a paid parental leave plan, and many already have their own schemes anyway, they have objected strongly to what they have ironically described as “a great big new tax”. Now, where have we heard that phrase before?

Perhaps Mr. Abbott isn’t so much a political prophet after all. Perhaps he is attempting to play Robin Hood, taking from the rich to pay for his social policy. But that’s not right either with the greatest benefits to go to those most well off anyway. After first opposing a paid parental leave scheme and now adopting one, and after promising no new taxes and now proposing a levy on business, perhaps he is just a very naughty boy who is prepared to say absolutely anything just to get some attention. Perhaps he is actually the boy who cried wolf.

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