Extract from The GuardianFormer prime minister warns his successor he has no intention of fading out of public life and will continue to stand for conservative values
Katharine Murphy Political editor
Tuesday 27 June 2017 15.21 AEST Last modified on Wednesday 28 June 2017 02.54 AEST
Tony Abbott has warned his successor he does not intend to quit public life, declaring Australia needs “strong liberal conservative voices now, more than ever”.
The former prime minister used a speech to the Institute of Public Affairs on Tuesday to dust off a conservative manifesto for government he first flagged in February, telling his audience: “I will do my best to be a standard bearer for the values and the policies that have made us strong.”
Abbott’s latest intervention comes in the middle of an internal fight sparked by Christopher Pyne’s comments at a Liberal party function over this past weekend, in which he signalled a win on marriage equality was imminent, and boasted about the influence of moderates within the government.
Pyne’s weekend indiscretion has prompted Malcolm Turnbull to dig in behind the marriage equality plebiscite, and choke off a plan by moderate MPs to bring forward a private member’s bill.
Turnbull attempted to play down the latest internal divisions on Tuesday, characterising his party room as “very harmonious, very united”.
In Tuesday’s speech Abbott invoked a Trumpism in reviving his conservative manifesto, arguing “we need to make Australia work again”.
In an effort to differentiate his policy inclinations from Turnbull’s, Abbott rounded on the recent Finkel review of the national electricity market, which recommended the government adopt a clean energy target.
Abbott said the only way to take pressure off power prices was to have a moratorium on new wind farms, stop any further subsidised renewable power and freeze the renewable energy target at 15%.
He said any government “serious about keeping the lights on” would need a new coal-fired power station, even if that meant building one itself.
Abbott also repeated calls for “a big slowdown in immigration” to allow new housing starts and infrastructure “to catch up with population”.
“Right now, a big slowdown in immigration would take the downward pressure off wages and the upward pressure off house prices,” Abbott said. Hitting the pause button on migration would give “harder-to-assimilate recent migrants more time to integrate with the wider Australian community before many more came in”.
Abbott is clear that winding back the number of immigrants would trigger a political fight with Labor, which he considers a useful development, because it would “just emphasise who’s on Australians’ side and who’s not”.
The former prime minister said the government needed to get the budget back under control, and the best way to do that was “to avoid all new spending”, except for national security or economic infrastructure.
He conceded it was “probably necessary to guarantee that existing beneficiaries will keep their benefits”.
Abbott said tough measures were required on national security. “We not only have a right but a duty to defend our values and our way of life against those who would destroy them.
“This means banning organisations that make excuses for terrorists, removing terrorist propaganda from the internet, and ensuring that known jihadis aren’t free on our streets.”
Abbott said the Coalition needed to reform the Senate to ensure governments were able to pass their programs, and to differentiate sharply from Labor. “The next election won’t be won by drawing closer to Labor,” he said.
“Sure, Bill Shorten can be painted as a union stooge who will put power prices through the roof, enshrine political correctness on steroids, and run the worst Labor government in our history,” Abbott said. “But you don’t win elections by saying that the alternative would be worse; you win elections by being the best possible government.
“The next election can only be won by drawing up new battlelines that give our people something to fight for, and the public something to hope for.”
Abbott said Australia was “a global success story” after the Hawke and Howard governments, but things had since taken a turn for the worse.
“Now, we can’t even look across the Tasman without a twinge of acute embarrassment,” Abbott said. “We have an abundance of energy – but the world’s highest power prices; an abundance of land – and property prices to rival Hong Kong’s; some of the world’s smartest people – yet with school rankings behind Kazakhstan.
“We need to make Australia work again – because our country, plainly, is not working as it should.”