Tony Abbott must be thinking: thank goodness for the “honeymoon”. It is helping lessen the public impact of some quite serious early problems his government is having.
Abbott is assisted not just by the glow around a new government, but also by the fact many voters are more than usually relieved at being rid of an old one. As for business: it is getting an inside run and likes what it sees as the new administration’s more measured style.
At present the government spends much of its time blaming Labor for all and sundry. But that will wash only so much and for so long. It won’t overcome some fundamental difficulties.
These include a serious, high profile rift between the Nationals and the Liberal “dries”; the prospect of an extended wait before the Coalition’s core promise, repealing the carbon tax, can be delivered (assuming it eventually can); business suggestions that consumers won’t get all the savings Abbott promises when the tax does go; and testy relations with Indonesia in the wake of the revelations about Australian spying.
There have also been the embarrassing disclosures that Coalition politicians (in particular) misused travel entitlements which will lead, when the new Parliament starts next week, to fresh pressure to tighten the system.
All that’s apart from the substantial challenge of getting next year’s budget together in tough economic circumstances and a continued deterioration of revenue, to be documented in the mid-year fiscal update before Christmas.
On the up side, the asylum seeker boats have significantly slowed – thanks to Kevin Rudd’s PNG solution and the Coalition’s hard line – but the progress has been overshadowed by controversy about Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s secrecy.
There is an element of intractability about some of the issues Abbott is facing in these early days.
If it were not for the honeymoon, the row over US company Archer Daniels Midland’s bid for agri-giant GrainCorp would be producing more dramatic headlines about a “crisis” in the Coalition.
With Treasurer Joe Hockey to decide by December 17 whether to approve the takeover, Nationals leader and deputy PM Warren Truss – who must have been very aware of the implications of what he was saying – came out extraordinarily strongly on Sunday in stating his and his party’s opposition to the bid (a position shared by some rural Liberals).
Hockey, asked on Wednesday about suggestions he planned to tick the takeover with conditions, declared, in what could only be seen as a lash at Truss and like-minded colleagues: “Let me say this on foreign investment. I will not be bullied or intimidated by anyone when it comes to dealing with the national interest. Anyone.”
The stakes are high. GrainCorp has become a test of Hockey’s spine and the Nationals’ muscle, and it is difficult to see how the battle is going to end happily.
The carbon tax’s repeal will be the first legislative item for Parliament next week. But now that Labor has dug in, it almost certainly won’t pass before the Senate changes in July. The Coalition can rail against “Electricity Bill” but the bottom line is that it can’t deliver on its promise to voters any time soon. This also forces business to make decisions in a vacuum. Businesses cannot just conduct their dealings on the basis of the government saying the tax will eventually be repealed; the law and contracts don’t operate like that.