Kathy Marks: Nod as good as a wink to out-of-touch PM

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Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo / AP
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo / AP

The wink that launched 1000 tweets was not sexism but folly - and as such it may prove far more damaging.

The radio talkback caller known as Gloria - she now says that's not her real name - had just told the Australian Prime Minister that she was 67, had three incurable illnesses, two of them life-threatening, got by on A$400 ($432) a fortnight and had to work on an adult sex line to make ends meet.

This was serious stuff. Gloria was upset, and not surprisingly. She went on to explain that as a result of last week's Budget she would be A$850 a year worse off. Tony Abbott only heard the bit about sex and winked at ABC presenter Jon Faine, like an adolescent schoolboy encountering a naughty word during an English lit class.

There are worse crimes. Puffing on a big cigar and dancing to Best Day of My Life just before delivering a Budget that will hit the young, the disabled and the low-paid spring to mind.

But the wink - and subsequent snigger which Abbott clearly had to fight with all his mind to suppress - demonstrated that he has no real empathy with ordinary Australians doing it tough.

The Prime Minister told another caller, Chantelle, who fears that her contract as a community care worker will not be renewed, that "we all have to live with uncertainty" and he himself might be out of a job come 2016.

Chantelle didn't say how much she earns, but it must be a tiny fraction of his annual salary of A$503,000. And when Abbott reaches Gloria's age - or rather, long before - he will be pulling in a pension of around A$377,000. He won't need to take a job that others find laughable in order to pay the bills.

Neither, it's a fair bet, will either of his three daughters, one of whom, Frances, received a A$60,000 scholarship to attend a prestigious Sydney design institute, it was revealed this week - a scholarship awarded by the chair of governors, Les Taylor, a friend of Abbott's and a big Liberal Party donor.

It's irrelevant whether Frances won it on merit. Like the wink, it looks really bad, particularly at a time when many young people fear they won't be able to afford university because, as announced in the Budget, fees are to be deregulated and the terms of student loans tightened up.

How much more unpopular can the Coalition and Abbott get? The Government was elected only eight months ago, and already the polls are so dire that there are mutterings about a leadership challenge. An unedifying precedent was set under Labor. Maybe Abbott is right to feel insecure.

- NZ Herald

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