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Prime Minister Tony Abbott

In April 1990, following the federal election campaign, the defeat of Andrew Peacock and the subsequent elevation of Dr John Hewson to the leadership of the Liberal Party, I had a long talk to Tony Abbott.

Mr Abbott was about to take a role with Dr Hewson as his senior Press Secretary, and he wanted to get some insights into what the role entailed. I am not sure how helpful I would have been, having just been beaten in an election campaign. That was a long time ago and a lot has happened since then.

But who would have thought that 23 years later he would be Prime Minister.

More recently we wrote in our magazine, The Shell, that the Australian electorate generally gets it right when they vote at a general election. This time, the electorate certainly got it right.

Arguably, Mr Abbott has been the most successful opposition leader in Australian political history. He has out polled and eventually dispatched three Prime Ministers (one of them twice). First, he successfully undermined Kevin Rudd’s legitimacy (with a bit of help from Rudd himself).  Second, he demonstrated that Julia Gillard had no legitimate authority, largely centred around her own incompetence, carbon tax and alliance with the Greens. And now, the second demolition of Mr Rudd during the recent election campaign.

And despite a negative and often vicious campaign against him, Mr Abbott has weathered the storm and will form government.

Labor’s desperate attempts over three years to argue Mr Abbott was unelectable just serves to demonstrate how out of touch with the electorate they were.

Mr Abbott has an interesting mix of attributes.  On one hand he gives the impression he is a rather rough-and-tumble fellow, a bit knock about, capable and articulate, while on the other he seems somewhat sensitive, accommodating and maybe even a “a soft touch”.

It is because of this rather blokey exterior that some people, particularly women, may have been reluctant to vote for him.  However, it is also this quality that has ultimately endeared him to the electorate.

Mr Abbott has weathered a relentless attack and yet the Coalition remained ahead in public opinion polls throughout the election. 

So what can we expect from an Abbott led government?

The first 100 days:
Mr Abbott’s first job will be to appoint his ministry. It is unlikely there will be any real surprises. Warren Truss, Leader of the Nationals, will be Deputy Prime Minister. Joe Hockey will be Treasurer, and Julie Bishop will be Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.

Tax reform will begin immediately with legislation for the removal of the carbon and mining taxes, which the Coalition says are undermining growth and investment, damaging the country’s reputation and making Australia less competitive.

Mr Abbott says these taxes are driving up the cost of living. Treasury's own modelling shows the carbon tax will erode GDP with a cumulative loss of output of $32 billion by 2020 rising to a staggering $1 trillion by 2050 (in 2010 dollars).

The Coalition will move swiftly to change the border protection legislation in order to stem the flow of unauthorised boat arrivals, reinstituting policies similar to those of former Prime Minister John Howard.
The Coalition has only recently unveiled what it says is the most ambitious deregulation agenda seen in this country, including the streamlining of environmental approval processes to provide greater investment certainty as well as a commitment to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission to tackle  union abuses in the building industry.

Mr Abbott said during the election campaign that he wanted to be known as an infrastructure Prime Minister. There will be a substantive commitment on critical infrastructure spending and reform, including the development of a rolling 15-year national infrastructure plan. This will involve substantial investments in new and upgraded roads.

A full-scale commission of audit will be conducted, the first since 1996, will identify areas of waste and other poor quality government spending and will be fundamental to restoring the structural integrity of the budget.

All these policy positions will, in one form or another, be started in Abbott’s first 100 days.

What Mr Abbott has successfully done is demonstrate to the electorate that Australia can only achieve its full potential off the back of a strong economy. His number one goal is to return Australia to economic strength.

From that will flow much of his longer term policy agenda.