The Hypothetical Tony Abbott

22 July 2011
1:30pm, Sunday, 31st July 2011. The courtyard of Parliament House, Canberra. The Leader of the Federal Opposition, The Honourable Tony Abbott, is addressing the assembled media. He is flanked by the Deputy Opposition Leader, Julie Bishop, and the Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey.

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time here on this beautiful but very cold Canberra Sunday. I wouldn't have dragged you from your families on a Sunday unless the issue was of great import, and that is what we as a nation are facing now. So I will get right to the point.

"In recent months, this great nation has become heavily divided on the issue of a pricing scheme for carbon. Make no mistake, the science is in; climate change is happening. The question we have been grappling with is what action Australia, as a nation, should take in the face of this issue.

"Whilst Australia is a first world economy and part of the global community, we are nonetheless small carbon emitters on a global scale. We enjoy a strong economy which is built on the hard work of the miners and industries allowing us to enjoy prosperity. I believe and always will, that the economic security of our workers should take precedence over making changes to our economy which will cause hardship for Australian families whilst having little impact on a global scale.

"Recently the Prime Minister Julia Gillard has released details of the Australian Labor Party's plans for a carbon tax. This tax, by targeting industries generating much of our Gross Domestic Product, has the potential to devastate our economy; causing large job losses, decreases in our export figures, and much hardship. I took the position that as this tax had the potential for such harm, and was not put to the voters at the last election, that the Australian public deserved a fresh election to have their say on the matter.

"However, the divisions in our society over this issue have become too deep, too hateful. Much of the agenda of the current debate is being set by certain sections of the media. Following the scandals of News Ltd in the United Kingdom, we can no longer accept this organisation from dictating terms of our debate in Australia. This anti-tax, anti-government rhetoric has seeped through to other quarters of the media. The insults are becoming too personal. Death threats are not an acceptable part of the political landscape in Australia and we must never allow them to be.

"In light of this, and bearing in mind the unique situation of our current parliament, what I am calling for is a new national unity. Without constitutional precedence for a fresh election, what we need at the moment is  national consensus. In a democracy, it is the role of elected representatives to take advice and make decisions on behalf of the voters. In recent days, myself and my colleagues in the shadow cabinet have been receiving briefings from Australia's top economists and climate scientists in order to frame our position. This brings me to today's announcement.

"I have spent this morning in talks with the Prime Minister, and informed her of our new position. In light of the opposing threats of climate change and damage to our economy, and in order to end the damage done to our democracy by hate-filled rhetoric, we will no longer ask for an election or oppose the carbon pricing scheme out of hand. Instead, what I have offered Ms Gillard is that we will work together with the government in framing the scheme so as to ensure that we can work towards the goal of reducing carbon emissions, whilst protecting the mining sector and those industries so vital to our economy.

"I am aware this stance will come as a shock to many of our supporters. The feelings against the carbon tax have run very high in recent times, and sometimes we, in the opposition, were incautious in knowing where to be seen to lend support. I'm sure all will agree that death threats and personal attacks go against the proud political tradition of this great nation. Our diggers did not fight for this country to see the level of discourse dragged down to this level. Through bipartisanship, working together, we can seek to mend the deep gaps which have opened up in this country. Working together, we can reach a balance. We must protect workers jobs now, and we must protect the future of the planet from climate change that could see the Earth our grandchildren inherit unrecognisable from the one we enjoy now.

"What we need now is consensus and acceptance. I understand there will be many questions arising from this announcement, however I will be holding only a brief question-and-answer period so that  myself and other members of the shadow cabinet can meet with Ms Gillard and members of the Federal Cabinet to discuss strategies moving forward [some mirth in the crowd]. We are all aware on both sides of of politics of just how critical these issues are, and are hoping to release a joint policy as soon as is feasible."

[Mr Abbott and colleagues are joined by the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard].



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