Comment: 'Year of delivery' draws to a close, but are voters buying it?

The Prime Minister is facing increasing pressure over the federal government's failure to pass its budget measures. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Let's take a look at the promises, the polls and the politicians as the parliamentary year shuts up shop.

And so the Parliament year draws to a close, complete with the traditional talk of who won or lost the year, and the suggestion that parliament may sit till Christmas if need be.

Such things are necessary to remind us of the time of year and if we didn’t go through them it would almost be as bad as if Love Actually failed to get another re-run on TV.

So possibly, not bad.  

While clearly you can debate the who won or who lost contest and even pretend it matters, it’s pretty clear the government isn’t ending on a high note.

Two weeks ago was meant to be barnacle clearing season – an odd process that didn’t seem to involve anything actually being done. This week began with Tony Abbott giving a long – for him – press conference which apparently put him on the front foot as he answered a variety of questions.

It was one of those moments that highlighted just how screwed the logic of this government and perhaps politics in general has become. A long press conference? Really, who outside of the press gallery or a few assorted political tragics gives a stuff?

No one.

People care about policies that affect their lives. If you’re talking about anything other than that, then you’re just the noise in the background that people sit through on the 6pm news while they wait for the sport.

Abbott’s getting-on-the-front-foot message is even less likely to be heard when the government itself is creating other noise.

Joe Hockey was reportedly incensed by the leaking last week that the GP co-payment might be dropped – as well he would be given doing so would increase the size of the budget deficit to be released in the mid year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO) in the coming weeks.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was also reported to be not all that pleased with Abbott sending Andrew Robb along to the climate change conference in Lima to ensure she didn’t go too green. Given Julie Bishop’s major contribution this week on the policy front was to suggest nuclear power be considered, I’m guessing being too green is not really the worry. More it would be due to the suggestions that Bishop is the star performer of the government. Sending Robb along ensures she doesn’t have the stage to herself.

But this is just internal government fighting which merely highlights that Tony Abbott never has had any authority within the parliamentary party other than he looked able to defeat Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

“People care about policies that affect their lives. If you’re talking about anything other than that, then you’re just the noise in the background that people sit through on the 6pm news while they wait for the sport.”

On the actual policy front, things were no better given the major piece of legislation set to pass this week on higher education was defeated in the Senate. The Government came up two votes short. Christopher Pyne with his usual sense self-importance invoked Churchill and suggested he would try again. 

Given of the 4 cross bench senators, only Nick Xenophon seems likely to negotiate the issue, the main reason for trying again is to keep the MYEFO looking less bad than it otherwise would, as the government is able to count the “savings” that would accrue from a policy if it is still before the parliament.

Throw in Defence Minister David Johnston sacking two advisors after a leak that showed him spending $660 for a lunch for he and his chief of staff.

It’s all pretty amateur.

The only win if you can call it that is they passed the legislation to restore Temporary Protection Visas. It’s a cruel policy that won’t bring them any political joy because I suspect most people wouldn’t even know what they are.

Which brings us to the ALP.

Bill Shorten, pretty much by virtue of being able to walk upright now sees himself leader of the ALP which is ahead in the polls. Clearly it is a case of the government doing all it can to lose office rather than Shorten leading the ALP to the front, because Shorten hasn’t really done or promised anything that would have you voting for him other than him not being Abbott.  

No one really expected Shorten to have unveiled any policy this year. There really was no need, but one would hope there is at least some core foundation on which future policy direction will be based.

The trouble for opposition leaders is they can be defined purely by what they are not – namely that they are not the government. That’s all well and good, but as Tony Abbott and to an extent Kevin Rudd found, it rather falls apart when you actually become the government.

But Bill Shorten is not helping matters when he told the ALP party room this week, in what was the conclusion to his big ra-ra end of year speech that “we will be more than this government is not”.

You hope he is trying to say that the ALP will not be only defined by not being the government, but as usual with Shorten the message became rather mangled. It ended up being a bit like someone trying to say “I’ve forgotten more about this issue than you’ll ever know” and instead saying “You know more about this issue than I’ve ever forgotten”.

All in all a good note to end the parliamentary year on. Despite Tony Abbott suggesting it was a year of delivery, I suspect he’ll hope voters will soon forget it. As for Shorten, whatever he said, it’s a good bet voters already have forgotten it.

Both next year need to try and come up with something worth remembering.

Greg Jericho is an economics and politics blogger and writes for The Guardian and The Drum.  

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