Seven Times Tony Abbott Did What He Just Told Leigh Sales Not To Do


Remember the budget emergency?

Before the 2013 election the Coalition mercilessly attacked Labor’s economic credentials, arguing the party had left Australia in a fix thanks to indulgent spending and poor management.

While then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Australians should remain confident about the country’s future, a central plank of the Coalition’s election strategy was to suggest just the opposite: you’re in a mess Australia, and you need us to clean it up.

Yet on 7:30 last night host Leigh Sales put it to the PM that things had become even untidier since Abbott’s election.

When Labor left office, unemployment was 5.8 per cent; it’s now 6.3 per cent. Growth was 2.5 per cent; it’s now two per cent. The Australian dollar was 92 cents; it’s now around 70 cents. The budget deficit was $30 billion when you took office and now it’s $48 billion. How do you explain to the Australian people that you were elected promising, in your words, to fix the budget emergency, yet in fact, Australia’s economic position has worsened under your leadership?

Tough question, and one the PM was keen to avoid.

“Well I don’t accept that. The boats have stopped. The carbon tax has,” Abbott responded, before being interrupted and put back on track by Sales.

“Let me give you some statistics. Bankruptcies at record lows, company registrations at record highs, car sales and housing approvals at near-record highs,” he eventually responded.

Then this:

“So, a lot of very good things are happening in our economy, and Leigh, I refuse to talk our country down. I refuse to talk our country down and I hope the national broadcaster might join me in looking for the good and boosting our country, which has so much potential.”

“I wonder what you would’ve done if I’d helped Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard look for the good,” Sales retorted.

To help the ABC better understand how not to talk down Australia or its economy, here are seven different lessons the broadcaster can learn from the PM’s own words.

1) Impress Upon The Public That “There Is A Budget Emergency

This was a favourite line for the Coalition while in opposition and one the PM dropped during an interview with the very same Leigh Sales just before the 2013 election.

“But there is a budget emergency,” he told Sales, following up by saying “there is a budget emergency,” lest the host be left confused in anyway.

Talk like this is sure to calm the nerves of investors and fill the public with confidence and national pride.

Image: Got Credit / Flickr

2) Compare Australia To A Borderline Failed State

Greece’s debt, and accompanying financial crises, hardly need to be explained. The country has been devastated by external demands for austerity as the crisis came within inches of tearing the Eurozone apart.

This, Abbott said earlier in the year, is what was happening to Australia before his ascent to power.

“Under the former Labor government we were heading to a Greek-style economic future,” he told 2SM radio in March.

3) Use Positive And Proportionate Language Like “Skyrocketing Debt”

See, for instance, Abbott’s 2013 budget response.

“In fact, unemployment increases and growth decreases,” Abbott also noted in the speech.

Pictured: economic modelling of Australia's debt. Steve Jurvetson / Flickr

While “skyrocketing debt” may sound like an intentionally alarmist turn of phrase designed to make the situation appear critical and deteriorating, it is in fact a precise piece of economic terminology which is totally acceptable to wheel out. Had Sales used language like this the PM would never have needed to give her the scolding he did.

Take note, Auntie.

4) Use The Word “Blowout” A Lot Too

In this March 2013 press release Abbott helped reassure Australians by using the term three times in two sentences, referring to debt and deficit.

Other ‘talking up’ terms include “budget failures” and, to really drive the positive message home, “massive blowout”.

5) Compare The Present State Of Things Unfavourably To The Past

“Debt has increased more rapidly as a percentage of GDP under this government than at any time since modern accounting records were first kept back in 1970,” Abbott warned in April 2013.

Once again, this choice piece of not-talking-down-ness was delivered on none other than 7:30 in response to probes from Sales.

Given the number of times the PM has talked down the Great Southern Land on Sales’ own show, over an extended period of time, he might want to take some of the credit for her doing the same.

6) Warn People Whole Towns Are About To Disappear

Abbott’s musing that the carbon tax would leave the South Australian town Whyalla “wiped off the map” became one of the most memorable claims leading up to the 2013 election, leaving people with a happy, glowing feeling about Australia’s future.

The valuable lesson about political and national discourse it imparts upon us would probably have been forgotten if not for the dramatic intervention of Labor diva Craig Emerson, a man tragically born without any sense of rhythm or pitch.

7) Leave No One In Confusion About The State Of The States

Pointing out uncomfortable facts about the state of the national economy is a no, but the same can’t be said for underling governments.

When Abbott noted in August 2013 that “unemployment in Tasmania over the last few years has been quite significantly higher than elsewhere in Australia – 2.5 percentage points right now” he was making a valid point, raising relevant facts, and highlighting a significant issue of economic concern.

You might be tempted to say this is what Sales was doing as well.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.