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Partisan indulgences leave middle Australia cold New polling suggests Tony Abbott should follow the example of his political father John Howard, who recognised the importance of appeasing middle Australia first and foremost, write Peter Lewis and Jackie Woods.
Tony Abbott has called himself the political love child of John Howard and Bronwyn Bishop. But as he contemplates an underwhelming start to leather pandora bracelet his Prime Ministership, he may wonder whether he should be taking less advice from mum and more from dad. While Bishop has been fiercely protecting her cub, working up a reputation as the most partisan speaker in recent political history, Howard has taken a firmer line, refusing to pat his offspring on the head when presented with what seemed the perfect gift the reintroduction of knights and dames. The wily former prime minister refused to endorse the idea, recognising it for the childish indulgence it was. Howard knows more than most the secret to longevity in leadership is in capturing the centre. His first major battle as PM was to take on a well organised (and well armed) section of the conservative base when he was forced to address gun laws in the wake of the Port Arthur tragedy. Of course, it was an issue thrust on the then PM, but it was one he pursued with a passion that for a moment united most Australians behind him. Abbott's early days as Prime Minister have seen the opposite, a continuation of the partisan pointscoring and left baiting that characterised his political ascendance, amplified by the parliamentary performance of his political mater. Knights, dames and bigotry dominated last week; pandora charms stores they were preceded by attacks on the ABC, the official pandora charms axing of the Climate Commission and a fresh assault on politically correct school curricula. It's a performance that has left voters distinctly lukewarm. We have Labor ahead on the two party preferred vote 51 to 49 and a trend away from the Coalition on the primary vote. The Coalition is down nearly four points since the federal election to 42 per cent while Labor is up nearly six points to 39 per cent a turnaround of 10 points in the major parties' political fortunes in a period that should be the Government's honeymoon. Behind pandora charm bracelet sale the lacklustre voting intention, our polling shows the issues the Abbott Government is bowling up are leaving middle Australia underwhelmed and divided. It has been hard to take the knighthood indulgence seriously, reflected in the fact only about a quarter of the electorate supports the move, concentrated among the over 65s and Coalition voters. And of course the reintroduction of British honours was never intended to win over progressives who predictably crowd the 'strongly disapprove' column. But while knights and dames might leave the electorate perplexed nearly a third of us don't know what to make of it the winding back of racial discrimination laws isn't playing for laffs. In defending the right to be a bigot, Attorney Brandis was at his Socratic best and appealing to the vocal and cashed up libertarian section of the Coalition base. But for many Australians racial discrimination isn't a theoretical debate; and whether or not a legislative provision can provide protection from abuse on a daily basis, there's considerable opinion that political leadership should be directed at preventing bigotry, not validating it. Changes to Racial Discrimination Act Again on this issue we see a split along partisan lines and while the 'total approve' and 'total disapprove' figures aren't miles apart, twice as many voters strongly disapprove of the move as strongly approve. Even the issue of cutting red tape, for small business people a self evident virtue, was derailed by an attempt to piggyback favours for the Big Banks and unwind protection from commission for financial planners. While we're divided on whether there's too much or too little regulation of business, we're stumped when it comes to identifying any sector of business we trust with less regulation. Last week's Essential Report revealed stubborn attitudes to the Liberal brand with 62 per cent of voters thinking the Liberal party is too close to big corporate and financial interests and 59 per cent perceiving it as out of touch with ordinary people. Critics of Howard will rightly argue that as his reign extended, so too did his attacks on his political enemies the unions, the welfare mums, the boats. But these were only launched once he had established himself as a prime minister for middle Australia. Indeed, the final and fatal attack on WorkChoices was only after capturing the Senate and winning an unfettered fourth term.
With the May budget looming as the next opportunity to define itself, the Abbott Government will have its next opportunity to prove to the electorate it can put the national interest ahead of partisan indulgence. Reverting to the psycho therapeutic stereotypes, mum tells you what you want to hear and dad tells you what you need to hear. In this context, our young PM would do well to heed some timeless fatherly advice: resist the temptation for self gratification.
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