The Business Times

Abbott, get back to repairing economy

Published Mon, Sep 8, 2014 · 10:00 PM
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THERE was a whiff of triumphalism in the air after a majority in the Australian Senate agreed to repeal the mining tax last week. Leaders in Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Liberal-National Party coalition government evinced much glee at its demise. It was the same sort of joy displayed by the Abbott government when the carbon tax was repealed earlier this year. Even though the carbon tax affected only 0.02 per cent of three million businesses in Australia and reduced household energy bills a modest 4-8 per cent, it was hailed as a major feat.

Unfortunately, repealing taxes seems to be the easy part. Budget measures to raise revenue and cut expenditure do not seem to be going so well. Indeed, Mr Abbott has admitted as much about his reform agenda recently. His plan to impose a A$7 (S$8.20) co-payment for visits to the doctor under the universal medical health system does not look like being passed by the Senate. His decision to free up fees that universities can charge undergraduates and changes to the students' loan scheme are also being held up. So are changes to conditions for welfare payments for the jobless and for old-age pensioners. Mr Abbott's pet project - a paid parental leave scheme that would compensate working women who take time off to look after their babies - is no longer even being talked about anymore.

No wonder then that Mr Abbott is showing enthusiasm for foreign events these days. The tragic downing of MH17 over Ukraine, in which 28 Australians and permanent residents were killed, provided some distraction - with him talking tough against Russia and the Ukrainian rebels. Then came the decision by US President Barack Obama to re-enter the Iraq conflict and stop Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants from taking over significant parts of the country. Despite being a junior ally of Washington, Mr Abbott jumped in to proclaim his willingness to join in the fight.

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