News & Current Affairs
26 August 2014
by Kaye Lee
Nothing is free? Depends who you are.
“[The budget] will do for people what they cannot do for themselves, but no more. Nothing is free. Someone always pays.”
A common refrain from Tony Abbott and his band of miserly men is that the taxpayer is footing the bill for all those “leaners” and that people should take more personal responsibility for themselves. User pays seems to be the pervading Coalition strategy in most areas – education, health, fuel excise, road tolls, GST.
It is somewhat ironic that Tony Abbott is leading this spin considering how much he has been given.
Tony came from England to Australia for free when his parents took advantage of the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme. His father became a wealthy man who paid for Tony to attend private Jesuit schools.
Tony then benefited from a free university education thanks to Gough Whitlam.
In a 1979 interview printed in Honi Soit, the Sydney University student newspaper, Tony said:
“I think too much money is spent on education at the moment,”
adding that departments such as General Philosophy and Political Economy should be the first to go”.
This contempt for philosophy and political economy seemed to disappear when it was suggested to Tony that he might be able to get a free ticket to Oxford via a Rhodes Scholarship. He applied to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
University and college fees are paid by the Rhodes Trust. In addition, scholars receive a monthly maintenance stipend to cover accommodation and living expenses.
After returning from England, Tony decided to let the Catholic Church pay for his education and keep and entered St Patrick’s seminary at age 26, significantly older than most of his fellow seminarians.
While at the Seminary, he wrote articles for The Catholic Weekly and The Bulletin.
In 1987, he quit the Seminary and started looking at a future in politics, although he continued writing for The Bulletin.
After marrying Margie in 1988, Abbott decided that writing for The Bulletin was boring and he wrote to a number of “business leaders” asking them for a job.
His plea for a job was answered by Sir Tristan Antico, a “prominent member of the wider Jesuit network” who offered Tony Abbott the position of Plant Manager at Sydney Concrete in Silverwater even though he had no experience or qualifications for the position.
Abbott soon quit the job as it wasn’t paying enough money and accepted a position with The Australian as a journalist. He continued writing at The Australian until John Howard recommended him for a position as the then Federal Liberal leader John Hewson’s press secretary. Tony was responsible for the speech when Hewson said “you can tell the rental houses in a street”.
In 1992, he was appointed director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, a position he held until 1994, when he was successfully elected to parliament when gifted pre-selection for the Warringah by-election.
From the age of 36 Tony lucked into the highest paying job you can get with no qualifications, experience or specific skills, and then in 2009, he was gifted the leadership in return for becoming a climate change denier. Some may say that the Labor Party then gifted him the Prime Ministership.
He has had free air travel, chauffeur-driven cars, and tickets for him and his family to anything they want to attend.
We pay for his books, his volunteering, his charity work. We pay for his petrol and his phone and his food and his electricity.
We buy him new jets so he can fit in the hundreds of photographers and businessmen that now travel everywhere with him.
As Opposition leader, Tony claimed over $1 million a year in “expenses”. I shudder to think what his time as Prime Minister will cost us, particularly considering his accommodation decisions. It should be remembered that Abbott is living in public housing.
The lavish Canberra home Tony Abbott refused to move into while the Lodge was being renovated has cost the government nearly $120,000.
The full cost of the ill-fated lease – including termination fees and legal advice – was confirmed at a budget estimates committee hearing in May.
The budget for the prime minister’s official residences (the Lodge and Kirribilli House) will increase from $1.61m in 2013-14 to $1.7m next financial year, rising to $1.77m, $1.81m and $1.86m in subsequent years. This is “for items, staff and cooking within the residences and to maintain the gardens”, but does not include the building upkeep.
Howard, the only other Prime Minister to refuse to move to where his job is, racked up over $18 million in flights between Sydney and Canberra during his term.
Tony’s daughters have also been fortunate.
His daughter Louise was appointed executive assistant to Australia’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva which is headed by former Coalition staffer Peter Woolcott.
There was internal disquiet at DFAT in Canberra about what some staff saw as a lack of transparency in the hiring and how Ms Abbott came to be doing high-level work, such as delivering a public statement on disarmament, when there were up to 14 policy specialists attached to the mission.
But a spokesman for DFAT said the job helping represent Australia to the United Nations was awarded “on the basis of merit.” Just like the unadvertised $60,000 scholarship thrust upon Frances Abbott even though she hadn’t even applied to go to the college let alone for any scholarship.
Regardless of what happens in the future, Tony will continue to be supported by the public purse for life.
Each former PM is entitled to at least two staff, including a senior private secretary, and the annual wages bill of each is about $300,000.
In 2010 it was reported that John Howard’s office was the most expensive, with expenses averaging $850,000 a year. Mr Howard’s expenses blew out well in excess of the other four former prime ministers no longer in Parliament thanks to a $450,000 office refit in 2008/09 to his swanky digs in Sydney’s MLC building, which was already costing nearly $14,000 a month to rent.
In the seven months after leaving office, Mr Howard spent $109,892 on limousine services, evenly split between the government Comcar service and private hire cars.
The former PMs also have their home and mobile phone bills paid by taxpayers, as well as unlimited allowances for publications, a private self-drive car, and air fares for them and their spouse.
These are in addition to their pensions under the generous former Parliamentary superannuation scheme, which gives them a pension indexed to current MPs’ salaries for life.
Assuming Tony Abbott remains Prime Minister for the next four years he could walk away with an annual pension of more than $380,500 and that’s not including the rest of the perks.
So when Tony shows no understanding of how real people live, when he wastes money on war toys while cutting pensions, it isn’t really his fault that he has no idea how to prioritise spending. Other people have always paid for Tony. No HECS debt for him, no applying for jobs, no making sacrifices to save for retirement, no wondering how to pay phone and electricity bills, no waiting for a flight or ringing a cab.
That self-satisfied smirk from Tony is not because he doesn’t care, it’s because he doesn’t have to.