Aspirational leader is careful with the P-word

Aspirational Opposition Leader is careful with the P-word

Date February 1, 2012 Category Opinion

Jacqueline Maley

TWO things happened when Opposition Leader Tony Abbott addressed the National Press Club yesterday.

First and best, Mr Abbott invented a new form of political promise, a quaint thing called a policy ”aspiration”, or alternatively, a policy that is ”in prospect”.

Some Coalition policies are commitments – paid parental leave, the repeal of the carbon tax.

Tony Abbott at the National Press Club yesterday: Policies on the menu, but no self-analysis. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Others, we learnt, such as certain tax cuts and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, are more like frocks you hold up to your face in the mirror for a bit to see if they match your colouring. But the invention of exciting new categories of promise never did a politician any harm.


It was Mr Abbott’s great political role model, John Howard, who spoke of core and non-core promises. He paid no great price for his linguistic stretches.

And, who knows? Mr Abbott’s new genus of promise could catch on. Henceforth teenagers can inform parents they ”aspire” to be home by curfew and altar-bound couples can pledge life-long fidelity ”in prospect”.

The second thing that happened yesterday was that Mr Abbott looked and sounded prime ministerial.

And lately Julia Gillard has looked so terribly un, most notably on Australia Day when she was dragged by security from The Lobby restaurant, in what could have been an out-take from the great 1992 Whitney Houston vehicle The Bodyguard.

A film that co-starred a bloke named Kevin, and which had a tragic ending.

Mr Abbott stood tall, spoke calmly, and attacked the government’s economic record, its taxing habit (and laid end to end, the mining, carbon, alcopops taxes etc do look more like a habit than a coincidence) and its members’ reputation as ”squalid fixers”.

He spoke of his principles, he tempered expectations, and emphasised his commitment to bridging the gap with indigenous Australians.

He said that the only point of delivering budget surpluses was to pay for social programs, and in one alarming sequence he sounded more socially progressive than the Labor Party, which these days seems to fear actually sounding left-wing.

He quoted Ben Chifley and Robert Manne. He said he wanted to send the electorate the message that the Coalition ”finally gets it” on the need for paid parental leave.

Of course, an unfortunate corollary of speaking at the National Press Club is having to take questions from the press.

Mr Abbott responded to journalistic inquiries like a proper politician, which is to say, he avoided answering them. One query, about his personal strengths and weaknesses, he flat out refused to address.

A true leader chooses his own message. And that message does not include self-analysis.

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