By MICHELLE GRATTAN
Tony Abbott promised a government of no surprises but has delivered a year chock-full of them.
A prime minister expected to lean to caution has thrown it to the winds. A leader without a cushion of popularity has taken big political risks. A man who campaigned on trust has squandered much of that precious political commodity.
Tribal, ideological, arrogant and over-centralised – these have been Abbott government faults in its first 12 months. It has often presented an unattractive canvas, desperately needing more subtle hues.
But for all the roughness, it would be unwise to predict from the first year – the anniversary is Sunday – what the second and later ones will be like. There are indications that performance and fortunes could be on the turn. A few Senate wins, some more deft touches, better polls, could shift the political dynamic and put Labor under more scrutiny.
If one looks back on recent prime ministers, their initial year contains seeds of future success and portents of failure: there is no surefire way of knowing which will prevail.
Poll expert Peter Brent, a blogger for The Australian, says Abbott has “polled very badly for a freshly elected prime minister”. Comparing Howard, Rudd and Abbott (the last three PMs to take power from opposition), Brent says that on the measures of voting, approval and better PM “Rudd was the most impressive [in year 1]; Howard was nearly as impressive, and then there’s daylight to Abbott”.
Because of its them-and-us view of the world, the Abbott government has eschewed inclusiveness. It has appointed a slew of mates to positions; denigrated those seen as “them” (like the ABC); displayed partisan pettiness (cancelling Steve Bracks’ appointment to New York).
Key election mantras have been delivered on. The boats have stopped. The carbon and mining taxes are repealed. Roads are planned.
The quest to repair the budget has been a less successful story. There have been some poor decisions, exaggeration of the problem, trashed promises, confused lines, bad selling, Senate logjams.
The government has frequently seemed insensitive to the pressures many ordinary men and women feel under in their daily lives. Tellingly, it wasn’t able to effectively rebut the argument the budget was “unfair”.
After writing off the old Senate it has struggled with the new one. To have its legislative fate largely in the hands of Clive Palmer, a man who used to be “one of us”, as it were, has been almost beyond bearable.
This week’s deal with Palmer to get rid of the mining tax was a fillip, for its symbolism as much as its substance, a sign the government could negotiate with this ragtag Senate. Nationals whip Mark Coulton says: “I think we’re starting to see the Senate settle down. I’m more confident of Senate outcomes than a few months ago”.