Abbott launch: small hand-outs, but big promises

Tony Abbott made his pitch for voters at the Coalition’s official party launch in Brisbane. AAP/Dan Peled

Tony Abbott has targeted self-funded retirees and western Sydney, with modest promises at his campaign launch in which he appealed to Australians to “choose change” on September 7.

A Coalition government would index the thresholds for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card to give more self-funded retirees access to cheaper medicines.

The initiative, costing A$100 million over the forward estimates, is partly a counter to fears among this group that they will be losers from the Coalition paid parental leave scheme, because its levy on business won’t attract franking credits.

Abbott also promised that in government apprentices would be able to complete their training with interest free loans of up to A$20,000, costing A$85 million over the forward estimates. This should appeal to people in western Sydney, where Labor is battling to hold a number of seats.

In another promise, Abbott pledged an extra A$200 million over five years for research into dementia, saying the best people to find treatments and cures “are our world-beating medical researchers.”

At his Brisbane launch to the party faithful, the opposition leader pledged that within a decade, a Coalition government would have a budget surplus at 1% of GDP, defence spending at 2% of GDP, the private health insurance rebate fully restored and “each year, government will be a smaller percentage of our economy.”

He said that within 10 years, if the Coalition’s vision was realised, Australia would have “lower, simpler, fairer taxes. There will be two million more jobs, in manufacturing as well as in agriculture, services, education and a still buoyant resources sector.

"We’ll have a more functional federation where the states are sovereign in their own sphere.

"The infrastructure gap will be filled… Public schools and hospitals will have far more freedom to be as good as their private rivals. Childcare will be more affordable and more available.”

Abbott said his vision for Australia “is not that big brother government knows best; it’s that our country will best flourish when all of our citizens, individually and collectively, have the best chance to be their best selves.”

He highlighted his controversial paid parental leave scheme, which Labor is targeting in its advertising. The opposition leader said if he were elected, by the end of his first term, there would be a “fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme… because factory workers and shop assistants deserve to get their actual wage while they are on leave - just like public servants do.”

He promised he would run a “no surprises, no excuses government”, And said “you could trust us in opposition and you will be able to trust us in government.”

Abbott was introduced by his daughters Frances and Bridget, who gave testimonials for their Dad; Abbott’s parents were also at the launch. Former Prime Minister John Howard was enthusiastically received by the crowd.

Earlier, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd handed ammunition to the opposition when he said Labor had not had a “mandate” for its carbon tax.

In an interview on the ABC, Rudd said “I don’t think our actions on the carbon tax were right. That’s why I changed it and moved towards a floating price.” Asked what was wrong with it, he said, “Well, to begin with we didn’t have a mandate for it. Furthermore a floating price is the best response to changing international markets.”