Tony Abbott today sought to draw a line under what he admitted was a horrible week for his party and government.
The prime minister called a surprise 45-minute press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday morning. In the address, Mr Abbott tackled a number of issues his government had struggled with over the past week, which he described as “a bit ragged”, including negotiations over the Medicare co-payment, a backdown on defence force pay, intense flak over budget cuts at the ABC and capped off with the drubbing of the Victorian Liberal-led coalition government in Saturday’s state election.
About the budget measures, Mr Abbott insisted: “the budget emergency started to abate the instant the government was elected to deal with it.” He remained adamant that his government was brave, saying: “whatever faults this government has, no one can accuse us of lacking courage.”
“It’s been a year when this government has demonstrated guts, commitment and strength of character on a whole host of issues,” he said.
Mr Abbott highlighted what he considered his government’s achievements, such as the abolition of the carbon and mining taxes and his asylum policy’s success in ‘stopping the boats’.
He went on to open up the press conference to questions from the media.
“I read with great interest some of the assessment that some of you offered of the government’s performance over the weekend,” the prime minister said to assembled reporters.
“I’d like, if I may, to take some of those head on.”
And so he did, for about 20 minutes.
Questioned about the blocked budget initiatives, he said “we absolutely stand by them” and hinted that his government would find a way to get them through eventually.
“The general rule is we persist with the budget measure as announced … until we decide that there is an alternative way forward which, under all of the circumstances, makes sense. The circumstances obviously include the particular composition of the Senate at the moment.
“Plainly there are some things which are going to have a lot of difficulty in the Senate. We stand by them,” he said.
About introducing the $7 price mechanism for GP visits, he said his government “always had and always will support” it.
He blamed his government’s struggles on “bad atmospherics” but hoped that eventually “substance trumps atmospherics”.
Ultimately though, he said, as leader he took responsibility for the government’s problems and outcomes
“Obviously I take responsibility for everything in the end. I mean, the buck stops here. That’s the way it is in our democracy. The buck stops with the party leader. In respect of the government, the buck stops with me so I take full responsibility.”
Then when asked about his promise, on the night before the election, that there would be “no cuts to the ABC”, the prime minister accepted that his vow was broken. He then attempted to put the issue behind him.
“I accept what we are doing with the ABC is at odds with what I said immediately prior to the election but things have moved on, circumstances are different,” he said.
“Going into that election, the then government was telling us the deficit for that year would be $18bn; it turned out to be $48 billion. I think sensible governments are not only entitled but, indeed, expected to change when the circumstances change.”
IMAGE: Tony Abbott (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)