ConservativeInternational has tended to focus on the scepticism about man-made climate change of Australia's new Liberal leader, Tony Abbott. But, for Josh Gordon in the Sydney Morning Herald, the most notable feature of Mr Abbott is his pursuit of the Oscar Wilde doctrine; ''the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about''. Given Mr Abbott's remarks earlier last week – admitting that he feels threatened by homosexuality – he might not be happy with the comparison to the great writer.
More notably, Mr Abbott has been attracting attention in recent days for his willingness to tax big business in return for funding support for families, particularly full-time mothers. Malcolm Farr at Australia's Daily Telegraph is confused:
"He has proposed a special tax on big business to fund a plan for six months’ paid parental leave*, something the old style Labor lefties, and the modern Green lefties, would cheer for. But momemts later, Abbott declares himself a traditional conservative who also wants extra help for stay-at-home mums and single-income families. Mao morphing into Margaret in the space of a single address to Coalition MPs on Tuesday."
The policy came about, in large part, because Abbott has been trailing among women in opinion polls.
The Australian Spectator is not just concerned at the alleged ideological inconsistency but also his lone-ranger approach to policy-making:
"For one thing, Mr Abbott went out on his own with the policy, leaving his shadow cabinet colleagues to hear about it practically with their morning papers. For another, after mortally wounding Mr Rudd’s emissions trading scheme by pegging it as a ‘great big tax on everything’, it is downright bizarre to see him proposing essentially the same thing — albeit in the service of a different end. And given that Mr Abbott famously declared as John Howard’s employment minister in 2002 that his government would implement compulsory maternity leave ‘over [his] dead body’, this is an incredible volte face."
The latest betting suggests that the first-term Labor government of Kevin Rudd is still hot favourite to be re-elected but former PM John Howard thinks Abbott has given the Liberals a chance. "Tony has a great potential to appeal to middle Australia, because he is more authentic than Rudd," he said. Continuing: "History tells you that the government will probably get a second term. But history is there to be remade and recast and turned on its head." The main purpose of his interview with The Australian was to attack Rudd's record of reform, however. "There are no economic reforms the Rudd government has undertaken," he said.
The graph below shows that Abbott has certainly narrowed the gap on "preferred PM" since taking over his party's leadership last November but Rudd still enjoys a reasonable advantage:
* Mothers will be paid "up to Aus$75,000 for six months' maternity leave through a 1.7 per cent tax on companies with taxable incomes above $5 million" according to the Sydney Morning Herald's assessment of Abbott's paternity leave policy.