Tuesday, August 3, 2010

To Debate Or Not To Debate, That Is The Question.

It’s eighteen days since Julia Gillard drove to Yarralumla to ask the Governor General to dissolve the Parliament so that an election could be called. It is eighteen more days until that election takes place, so this is the half way mark. The first half of the campaign has been filled with more trip-ups than triumphs, especially for the Government, leading to the promise to unleash the “Real Julia”. At the same time, the opposition also had a few wobbly moments, especially in the first week of the campaign when Tony Abbott seemed to be tying himself in knots to kill off work choices without actually promising not to give it mouth to mouth after the election. It has given rise to the perception that while Labor wants us to see more of the “Real Julia”, there might be concerns that the “Real Tony” can’t be trusted not to put his foot in his mouth.

Of course, the real question is not whether not Tony Abbott might sometimes stumble on his words, because let’s face it we all do that from time to time, but whether he can be taken at his word. Even on that score, his own words can be used to condemn him after his confession that not everything he says can be considered to be the “gospel truth”. To be fair, that indiscretion was also the result of mangling his own message, but even so it is a less than reassuring performance. But the real measure of his intent should be found in his policies. While the Government has been suffering in the polls as a result of its own shortcomings, Tony Abbott has been enjoying a relatively free run, getting away with a series of inconsistencies.

Having said that climate change is “crap”, he now wants to spend taxpayers’ money on “direct action” against climate change. Having denigrated the Government for introducing a “Great Big New Tax”, he announced his own Big New Tax on business to pay for a parental leave scheme to which he had previously been opposed. Having imposed that Big New Tax he then announced that he would cut Company Tax by a similar amount, at the same time gazumping the Government’s own plan to cut Company Tax. Having done that he has now changed his plan for parental leave to start a year later and reduced the tax increase so that it exactly matches the tax cut for companies. Having demanded two more Leaders’ debates during the campaign he has now refused the challenge from the “Real Julia” to engage in a debate on the economy.

Now that the Opposition appears to have the upper hand in the opinion polls, perhaps Tony Abbott can afford to reject the opportunity for another debate. Perhaps he is right to claim that the invitation is nothing more than a stunt, especially as the date would conflict with his own campaign launch. Perhaps he is unconcerned that he will be accused of wanting to avoid a debate or that he is afraid of the outcome. But the bottom line now is that he can no longer accuse the Prime Minister of the same thing. If he really wants a second or even a third debate, it now appears that the Prime Minister would be prepared to accommodate him. Having said no, it would now seem that the “Real Tony” really doesn’t want a debate after all.

I wonder if he ever actually did.

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