News National Found in translation: Abbott’s mea culpa explained
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Found in translation: Abbott’s mea culpa explained

Tony Abbott smirk grin. AAP
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“Good morning everyone, we have quite a bit to talk about today.”

(Strap in. This will take a while.)

DEFENCE PAY

AAP
Jacqui Lambie continues fighting for troop pay, much to Abbott’s chagrin. Photo: AAP

What he said: “I have enormous respect for the professionalism, for the courage, for the tasks that our Defence Force personnel do.”

What he was really saying: I like photo opportunities with soldiers as much as the next politician.

What he said: “All of us would like to see our Defence Forces paid more but what’s possible with a $20 billion surplus is not always possible with a $40 billion deficit. So, I think we just have to be realistic about Defence Force pay.”

What he was really saying: I am not going to roll over completely.

What he said: “There is a massive budget repair task that’s necessary … We won’t squib it and that’s why we are determined to stick with the 1.5 per cent pay arrangements. But the commitment I give to our Defence Forces is no one in the public sector will do better than them because they are people who face rigours and endure dangers that the average person in the public sector doesn’t face.”

What he was really saying: Soldiers are special, but they won’t get any more than pen pushers whose biggest danger at work is a paper cut.

What he said: “Nevertheless, I can announce this morning that the Government is not proceeding with the changes to allowances that were announced with the Defence Force pay.”

What he was really saying: But I will compromise.

What he said: “Not only are we listening to the Defence community but obviously I have discussed this matter with a number of my Parliamentary colleagues [who] have lots of Defence personnel as their constituents.”

What he was really saying: We are nervous as hell about losing those seats.

RAGGED WEEK

What he said: “Now, I’d be the first to admit that last week was a bit of a ragged week for the Government.”

What he was really saying: Last week was a train wreck.

What he said: “I read with great interest some of the assessments that some of you offered of the Government’s performance over the weekend.”

What he was really saying: When my cheer squad in the Murdoch press is turning on me, things are crook.

What he said: “I do believe that by any reasonable measure, this has been a year of very considerable achievement for the Government. It’s been a year when this Government has demonstrated guts, commitment and strength of character on a whole host of issues, whether it be MH17 or responding to the closure down the track of Holden and Toyota.”

What he was really saying: Why am I not given more credit for sticking up to Putin and rent seekers in the car industry?

What he said: “The carbon tax is gone. The mining tax is gone. The boats are stopping. The roads are building.”

What he was really saying: The carbon tax is gone. The mining tax is gone. The boats are stopping. The roads are building.

What he said: “The Budget is coming into better shape.”

What he was really saying: Hopefully they didn’t see me cross my fingers on that one.

What he said: “Let’s not forget that the Howard government had a pretty rocky first term. The Howard government was in a diabolical position at different periods in the first term and yet it recovered to win its second election and then went on to be arguably the most successful post-war government Australia has had.”

What he was really saying: Dear backbenchers, all is not lost. Besides, Malcolm has blown his ABC constituency, so don’t get any funny ideas.

THE BUDGET

Joe-Hocket-Tony-Abbott-parliament
Joe Hockey might need a hug after the savaging his budget has copped. Photo: AAP

What he said: “Obviously, when you’ve got all of our major commodity prices under pressure; the iron ore price, the coal price, the gas price … there is pressure on the Budget that wasn’t there at the start of the year.”

What he was really saying: The budget bottom line is stuffed.

What he said: “The fundamental difference, though, between this year and last year is that this year you’ve got a Government which is serious about Budget repair. Last year you had a government that talked about Budget repair but never actually delivered … the Labor Party is doing its best to sabotage it but we will stay the course because we understand that, in the end, government does have to live within its means.”

What he was really saying: It would be more stuffed under Labor.

VICTORIA

What he said: “We made two very significant contributions to Victoria over the last few months.”

What he was really saying: Stop laughing.

What he said: “We absolutely, relentlessly, backed the East West Link. I continue to believe that this is a vital piece of infrastructure for Melbourne, Victoria and for Australia. The other big contribution that we made to Victoria in recent months was the Hayden Royal Commission because, by general agreement, there is a very serious problem of corruption and criminality in elements of the union movement, particularly the CFMEU in Victoria.”

What he was really saying: Funny, Denis Napthine didn’t seem very grateful when I pointed this out to him after the election.

What he said: “I’m not going to offer gratuitous advice to my Victorian colleagues.”

What he was really saying: They won’t take my telephone calls.

What he said: “I hope that the new Premier, who I spoke to this morning, might come round on East West Link and certainly the Commonwealth’s $3 billion remains available for East West Link should he come round.”

What he was really saying: C’mon Dan. Break a big promise early. You’ll find it liberating.

BARNACLES

Tony Abbott and Barack Obama at G20
Tony Abbott struggles to make friends with tree huggers. Photo: AAP

What he said: “Now, when something goes before the Senate, you might decide that rather than having the best, you’ve got to have something which is better but not quite as good as what you wanted. That’s the kind of thing that I was alluding to when I said we would be taking the barnacles off before Christmas.”

What he was really saying: All bets are off. Everything is up in the air. How the hell do you govern with a Senate of fruit loops, mavericks and, worse, people who think for themselves.

MEDICARE

What he said: “We are totally committed to the Medicare co-payment … Now, I know it may well have trouble with the crossbenchers and let’s see what, in the end, we come up with.”

What he was really saying: I have no idea what is going to happen with the Medicare co-payment. As I said, all bets are off.

What he said: “I don’t think anyone would say that a co-payment is bad in principle because if a co-payment is bad in principle, we should all be campaigning against the PBS co-payment which has been in place for 40-odd years. So, there is nothing wrong with a co-payment in principle.”

What he was really saying: Yes, intellectually I understand that going to the doctor and buying drugs are two separate things. But maybe if I say it often enough people will start to conflate the two. Plus there is the awkward point that I never mentioned my deep philosophical commitment to the principle of a Medicare co-payment before the election.

What he said: “What’s happened is that there has been a ferocious campaign against it by the Labor Party which is determined to sabotage every reform, every budget repair measure even though at different times under more responsible leadership, it’s had a different approach to most of them.”

What he was really saying: If only Labor was as positive in opposition as we were.

BROKEN PROMISES AND THE ABC

What he said: “On the subject of broken promises, I accept that what we are doing with the ABC is at odds with what I said immediately prior to the election.”

What he was really saying: There. That feels better.

What he said: “But things have moved on, circumstances are different. Going into that election, the then government was telling us the deficit for that year would be $18 billion; it turned out to be $48 billion. I think sensible governments are not only entitled but, indeed, expected to change when the circumstances change.”

What he was really saying: I know I promised that I wouldn’t use changed circumstances as a cover for breaking promises. But circumstances have changed.

What he said: “Now, as for other things that have been claimed to be broken promises, we haven’t cut health spending. We haven’t cut education spending. We haven’t increased taxes other than the surcharge on higher incomes.”

What he was really saying: The fuel tax is a levy, not a tax.

CHAOTIC OFFICE

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The PM’s right hand woman, Peta Credlin. Photo: AAP

What he said: “I stand by my office. It’s a very good office. My office is essentially the same office that got us from nowhere to election parity in 2010 and gave us a very strong victory in 2013. Let’s not forget where we were as a party and as a Coalition in 2009. In December 2009, the Liberal Party was on the verge of splitting, the Coalition was on the verge of breaking.”

What he was really saying: We were bloody good in opposition.

What he said: “They do a fantastic job under sometimes difficult circumstances.  Now, I’m not privy to every conversation that goes on between every journalist and every member of my staff up in the press gallery and I know that lots of things can be read into conversations.”

What he was really saying: Government is much tougher.

What he said: “As I was coming out of the ACCI dinner on Wednesday night, it was put to me that we’d dropped the co-payment. I don’t know how many of you saw the footage but I was, frankly, a little bit bemused and surprised by that because that’s never been our position.”

What he was really saying: I have had a chat with Peta Credlin. We have come to a mutual understanding that I am the prime minister. She took it quite well.

PAID PARENTAL LEAVE

What he said: “Do you think if I were to change the paid parental leave scheme that there wouldn’t be screams of broken promise? I mean, I put it to you collectively, these are very important questions and on the one hand, you are inviting me to change a policy that we took to two elections and, on the other hand, you’re ever vigilant to damn the Government for broken promises.”

What he was really saying: I wish I had never had that thought bubble.

What he said: “We will deliver a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme.”

What he was really saying: I can’t possibly drop it now, no matter how much my colleagues think it stinks.

What he said: “What tweaks might possibly occur will depend very much on the course of discussions with the Senate early in the new year.”

What he was really saying: Jacqui Lambie will probably end up having the final say anyway.

A FINAL WORD

What he said: “The ultimate commitment that all politicians should give to the people and, certainly, the ultimate commitment that this Government makes is to do its best to govern as effectively as we can given the circumstances that we find ourselves in and as close as we possibly can in conformity with our commitments.”

What he was really saying: Plenty of wriggle room there. And nuance. So long as we are “doing our best” to fulfil our promises “as close as we possibly can” depending on “the circumstances that we find ourselves in”.  Much better than the pre-election line about saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Never did like simplistic slogans.

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