Yesterday, Liberal members of parliament in Australia were anonymously complaining about Tony Abbott’s mishandling of his new deficit levy proposal. Today, however, the Australian government released its Commission of Audit with recommendations for the upcoming budget and members of the prime minister’s party are starting to openly revolt against some of their leader’s ideas, including his new tax and the paid parental leave scheme he ran for election on. In parliamentary politics, parties matter more than individual politicians do, so this new, open criticism is a big deal. If Abbott angers his party enough, they have the power to remove him from the position he has and stage a new election of leadership. Unlike in the United States, then, he has to play nice with his party members and right now, Tony Abbott has an irritable party problem and has taken no steps to solve it.
The political news from Australia today includes so many headlines that spell doom and gloom for the prime minister that it is hard to keep a rational view of the events going on. It is all too exciting to be simple politics. This is the kind of situation that political commentators live for, that brings in ratings, and gets normal people riled up. One mildly dramatic headlines says that Abbott is only facing “internal opposition” from his party, which is putting it mildly. Yesterday, anonymous members of parliament were quoted as saying that the new tax was “bulls—” and a violation of the party’s pre-election promises that a Liberal government would not raise taxes. Today, the outcry is more open and actually has names attached to it.
Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi walked to the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) about the new tax in rather damning terms. He told the media company that the tax was targeting the wrong people and was against what a Liberal government stands for. Like all Liberals, he believes in lower taxes and smaller government, a policy that many Australians actually support as evidenced by the elections results. Running on these principles is what got many Liberals, including Tony Abbott, elected. The new tax, however, violates all of that and, according to Senator Bernardi, will keep people from doing the right thing when it comes to their fiscal decisions. Instead, this tax as it has been proposed by the prime minister, will hit those middle class Australians who are already “doing more than their fair share.” Bernardi’s comments are some of the strongest that have been reported so far.
Another Liberal party member, though, spoke anonymously in order to tell the ABC that they would be willing to defect from the party should the tax go through. While the comments were anonymous, they point to an interesting wrinkle for Tony Abbott. If his policies are enough to drive his own party members out, that could affect the balance of power that has so far been in the Liberals’ favor. This is the exact opposite of what the prime minister needs, since he does have quite a majority stacked up in parliament at the moment. He will need that majority in order to pass his budget, his taxes, and his paid parental leave scheme.
The way it looks right now, though, is not good as Abbott is still creating an irritability problem for himself within the party. While he ran on the paid parental leave scheme – a promise of 75,000 dollars to mothers who make over 150,000 dollars a year – it has proved problematic for him to support since the election. The policy has been called a bonus for the rich and unfair by members of the opposition, but Abbott has insisted that it is only fair for women to receive support if they decide to have children. But he also ran on the idea that a Liberal government under his leadership would cut spending, and the paid parental leave scheme is an addition in spending. He has agreed to cut back on the amounts that would be spent, the new figure being 50,000 dollars in benefit, and adjusted the eligibility requirements to include women who make 100,000 dollars and up, but this may not be enough for his party, who still dislike the scheme.
While Liberals have been vociferous in their dislike of the new deficit levy, they are even more so when it comes to the paid parental leave scheme. At least five Liberal senators have reportedly told colleagues that they would cross the aisle if the scheme were to go through. There is apparently enough outrage within the party that Abbott has instructed some of his ministers to take to the phones in order to drum up support, allay fears, and explain issues to the party members. The question remains, however, whether these measures will be enough to keep his party from mutinying completely against his unpopular leadership.
There seems to be a crisis within the Liberal party and it is not one of identity or of belief. In fact, Liberal party members are still adhering to the principles of small government and tax cuts that have defined them for years. The problem is that their top guy does not seem to be as keen on those ideals as they are. Tony Abbott’s problem with his irritable party is not that they are wrong, but that he has offended them to the extent that some are wondering if his prime ministership will last to the end of the year. Australia has seen a few prime ministers removed by their own disgruntled party members and as of today, Tony Abbott could be the next.
Opinion By Lydia Webb