Friday, May 22, 2009

Tony Abbott, the pension, when you're 65, strike that 67, and acting as shadowy opposition spokesperson for the government

(Above: is that Tony Abbott dancing away with a young Liberal hottie? By golly, join the Liberal party, do karaoke, dance the night away, see the world and save it from the devious Trotskyites and wretched Whitlamites. While still wearing a tie!)

If ever you want to read a series of fatuous non-sequiturs, Tony Abbott is your man

He blogs away on the Daily Telegraph, as if to showcase the irrelevance of politicians to the broader Australian community, as it goes about the business of getting enough crust together to put a few crusts on the dinner table. As if to answer his column's header - The pension needs a public debate - he conducts a quick debate, and wraps it up even more quickly in favor of the government's new policy!

If there's one area the Liberals have been caught napping by the recent budget, it's the government's sleight of hand raising of the pension age from 65 to 67. How's this for a hard hitting Abbott response?

The government’s decision to raise the pension age to 67 makes sense in principle but it should have been debated beforehand rather than just “sprung” on people as a budget night surprise. If the government had more real self-confidence, it would not have run away from arguing the case beforehand rather than just presenting it afterwards as a “done deal”.

So the government's right, but we should have sat around in some kind of group hug love fest talking about the problem, before agreeing the government was right, and do it anyway? Gee Tony, you sure you didn't spend your early days in a Nimbin hippie co-operative where all the decisions involved sit down time and endless debate, before the prime movers got their way as they'd wanted all along? Barnaby Joyce will have a word about that.

Just to make it easier for the government, Abbott then goes on to argue the case they should have put before doing what they did, and leaving the Liberals to brood about what should have been a Liberal policy and a good discussion starter for them.

The pension age was set in 1908 when life expectancy at birth was under 60.

Today, it’s over 80. In 1908, life expectancy at 65 was 11 years; today it’s 19 years. Presumably, that’s why the Harmer Report said that the pension age should go up by between two and four years (or to almost 70).

Then he goes on to fret about the people it might affect, especially people involved in physical jobs like brick laying. But then to make life easier for the government, he follows by rebutting any concerns:

In fact, there are very few 64 year old bricklayers. Manual workers have mostly either found different types of work or gone onto some form of benefit well before pension age. Raising the pension age is not about keeping people as conscripts in the workforce. It’s about encouraging people who want to work to keep going and, even more important, sending the clearest possible signal to employers that workers aren’t “past it” at 65.

Great, so everything's okay then. Why do I feel I've been reading a debate between a bath sponge and a hand towel?

Having sorted the whole issue in favor of the government, it's time for a little FUD.

There are still a lot of questions, though, that the government needs to answer about its budget changes and reports for older Australians. How will the promise not to disadvantage existing part-pensioners despite the new, stiffer income rules actually work in practice? Why did the Henry Review canvass means testing the family home if the government has no intention of allowing it? How would people claim their private health insurance rebate under a means test?

Questions, questions, and nary a policy answer.

Well I look forward to the shadow minister for Labor Party propaganda raising all these issues in due course, down the track a little way, and answering them with the same ease - for benefit of and in favor of the government - as he answers any concerns you might have about the age hike from 65 to 67. You see, Greg Melleuish, how your saucy doubts and fears about the move are totally unfounded?

Oh but that leaves Abbott with just enough time to raise the spectre of Whitlam-eque socialism:

The biggest question, of course, is how the government will keep the economy strong enough to pay the social security bill in the years ahead given the higher taxes and interest rates that its debt and deficit mean. Giving more money in social security is all very well but someone has to make the money first. Labor has always been much better at redistributing wealth than creating it.

Lordy lordy, if I do a post graduate degree in sanctimonious platitudes and fear mongering for the aged, can I become a politician too?

We all know Abbott's been off his game ever since his master John Howard left, and he lost his role as mastiff attack dog and bully boy, and instead of being a preening thug and poncing prat, he had to face up to life on the opposition benches. 

It always comes as a shock to discover vulnerability and loss when you've been cock of the walk. But can someone take him aside and help explain that arguing the benefits of a government move like a government spokesperson is all very good and fair and rational, but dumb politics and even duller reading.

There should be more fun in watching this plucked rooster going about the business of opposition, but instead I feel like giving him a good shaking, and getting him on the move. 

The opposition really needs to get its collective thinking cap on, and their talking points together, and develop a coherent strategy. Right now they're sounding like messengers for the government.

Still, at least with John Howard safely abed, we don't have the likes of Dick Cheney prowling around spreading his own peculiar brand of FUD. Can someone please provide the GOP with a wooden stake as the solution to that part of their own re-branding program?

You can blog with Tony if you like - unless your metabolism is inclined to the soporific - in which case you might just nod off, which would be a pity, because the fun starts when you get down to the sometimes surprisingly snarky set of comments he attracts. Spinmeister please, a tune for the plucked rooster blogger:

I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-seven?

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-seven?


(Below: Tony Abbott again. It really doesn't have anything to do with anything, but I couldn't resist it as an image. Kudos to the photographer who persuaded him to pose for this one).

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