Coalition at war with itself

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    Well, what can you say?

    Cabinet leaking like a sieve. The decision making process amateurish at best. No wonder half baked policy on the run is occurring. It's only a matter of time, now.

    War in PM Tony Abbott’s cabinet over six month wait for the dole (Sam Maiden)

    PRIME Minister Tony Abbott and his powerful chief of staff Peta Credlin brushed aside deep concerns within cabinet’s budget razor gang that a six month waiting period for school leavers to claim the dole was “too harsh’’.

    In a major leak from the nation’s most powerful cabinet committee, known as the expenditure review committee, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal that the deep concerns of former Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews and Employment Minister Eric Abetz over the “earn or learn’’ policy were ignored.

    Multiple sources inside the budget razor gang have confirmed debate raged for weeks with Mr Andrews also fighting for exemptions to the policy after he lost the battle over the waiting period.

    “They thought it was a step too far, it was too harsh’’ a senior minister said.

    But now, the Prime Minister is poised to scrap the original six month waiting period for school leavers to claim the dole after the Senate blocked the measure and his own backbench savaged the proposal.

    Witnesses to one exchange among senior ministers have revealed that Ms Credlin pushed hard for the six month waiting period, stunning observers by citing the example of her late father Len, a farmer, and others of his generation, who did not have access to the welfare largesse of today when they encountered difficulties.

    Ms Credlin has been widely criticised for attending cabinet meetings as an unelected MP and has recently ceased this practice after a storm of controversy.

    It not unusual for senior staffers to attend and in some cases debate policy at the expenditure review committee.

    However, it was noted by others that Ms Credlin’s prosecution of the case for a lengthy waiting period for the dole was forceful and at odds with the advice of the ministers running the portfolios.

    The Prime Minister and his chief of staff’s central role to the formulation of the budget go to the heart of Mr Abbott’s refusal to sack his Treasurer.

    Last week, the Sunday Telegraph revealed that Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop had urged Mr Abbott to take action over Mr Hockey before Christmas last year.

    But the Prime Minister has refused to do so.

    The leak over the “earn or learn’’ policy reinforces another cabinet leak in January that revealed the Prime Minister ignored the advice of Treasurer Joe Hockey and then Health Minister Peter Dutton to cut the Medicare rebate by $20.

    It’s understood that the Prime Minister was also inspired by his own interest in intergenerational welfare dependency in Aboriginal communities to demand a tougher, six months waiting period for the dole.

    Concerns over that the measure was too tough were put by two right-wing ministers, the former Mr Andrews and Senator Abetz.

    The former Health Minister, Peter Dutton, also raised concerns within the expenditure review committee that the tough measures needed to be balanced and not go too far.

    While the learn or earn reforms are still before Parliament, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison recently confirmed that the six month waiting period would not continue in its current form.
    Mr Abetz also recently suggested they may be watered down.
    “All these things are works in progress. It remains our policy but we are sufficiently savvy to know that we need to deal with the Senate and we’ll see where that one lands,’’ Senator Abetz said.

    While one witness insisted that Mr Hockey was “spineless’’ in the expenditure review committee in the face of forceful presentations by Ms Credlin and Mr Abbott, others begged to differ.

    They insisted that Mr Andrews had confided to colleagues that it was also Mr Hockey and officials from the Prime Minister’s office and Treasury who insisted on a six month waiting period.

    Mr Andrews did not agree with the six month waiting period.

    The former minister preferred what he described as the New Zealand model of a one-month waiting period for the dole.

    He also argued for greater exemptions for the policy measure including for mothers and the disabled.
    After many debates in the expenditure review committee Mr Andrews was able to extract some concessions to offer more exemptions. But the final policy was not settled until the eve of the budget.
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