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Abbott digs himself into deeper Gonski hole

Tony Abbott now faces the familiar issues of trust. AAP/Aman Sharma

Tony Abbott enters the last parliamentary fortnight highly vulnerable on that familiar issue of “trust” – and it is all his own doing.

The Prime Minister today added to the ammunition the opposition has over the government’s breach of promise on the Gonski funding, by going further in trying to whitewash the record.

Appearing on the Ten network, Abbott was asked about a pre-election statement by Christopher Pyne, when the education spokesman said “You can vote Liberal or Labor and you will get exactly the same amount of funding for your school.”

Having had the “grab” played to him, Abbott declared that “I think Christopher said schools would get the same amount of money and schools - plural - will get the same amount of money.”

He then went on: “We are going to keep the promise that we actually made, not the promise that some people thought that we made or the promise that some people might have liked us to make.”

This really is claiming black is white. There are not only Pyne pre-election quotes but pledges from Abbott too, reassuring voters that individual schools would receive the same deal under both Liberal and Labor.

The schools funding row has immense potential to damage the Abbott government in its early days.

In terms of raw politics it dwarfs other problems the new government has.

The Coalition has broken a promise, and Abbott continues to make things worse.

After everything that Abbott said on trust, it is inexplicable that he would have chosen to land himself into this situation.

He could not have picked a more dangerous area. Education is an issue on which voters feel strongly; school funding affects millions of people.

And by buying a row with the states, Abbott finds himself being called out by critics who are politically credible on the issue because they come from his own side – the Coalition governments of NSW and Victoria.

The debt ceiling is not as potent politically as schools, but it is something the government has to resolve in these last parliamentary days. The present $300 billion limit is less than $4 billion away from being reached, and the Senate is refusing to accept the government’s legislation to raise it to $500 billion.

Labor and the Greens amended the bill to make it $400 billion, which the government says is not enough (a buffer is built in for safety). The Coalition does not want to have to return to Parliament later for another increase.

The government is now hoping to break the impasse by a deal with the Greens to scrap the ceiling altogether.

It says it will only accept either $500 billion or no ceiling at all.

After hearing evidence from Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson, who made the case for $500 billion, the Greens said they did not believe that level was urgently needed.

But they are willing to consider scrapping the ceiling in exchange for improved reporting conditions.

Greens leader Christine Milne says the whole debt ceiling debate “is a phoney one imported from America by someone in Canberra who watched too much West Wing.

"Rather than having a debate over the level of debt, we should be talking about what the money is being used to fund and the extent to which debt is being raised to cover a shortfall in revenue,” Milne said.

A spokesman for shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said Labor was sticking to its position that the ceiling should be raised to just $400 billion.

The opposition was not willing to consider a higher figure without the government producing updated debt figures. The government says it can’t update the figures before this week’s national accounts are fed into the mid year budget figures.

Labor brought in a ceiling and is not supporting abolishing it.

The Coalition’s legislation to remove the carbon tax is due to come before the Senate in the next few days. It will be voted down.

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