Abbott accused of putting 'image first, policy last'

Words: Daniel Hurst

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has been accused of putting image before policy, after the leaking of an email trail showing his interest in being seen as a ''good bloke''.

The emails also reportedly showed a senior adviser urged Mr Abbott not to use his National Press Club speech on Thursday to announce the cutting of a major government program.

Trade Minister Craig Emerson seized on the leak, saying Mr Abbott should take the opportunity during his address to explain what he wanted to cut.

''Three-word slogans are not a substitute for policy,'' Mr Emerson said.

''Mr Abbott wants to put his image first and policy last.''

In his Press Club speech, Mr Abbott pitched his credentials as a future prime minister, highlighting his diverse experiences away from executive government, but the speech was light on new policies.

''As a cabinet minister for seven years and leader of the House of Representatives for six, I have a fairly typical politician's resume,'' he said.

''Along the way, though, I've been a concrete plant manager as well as a Rhodes Scholar, a footy coach as well as a journalist, a nipper parent, as well as a political adviser.''

He also referred to his wife Margie's Girl Guide work and time serving on a local school committee before talking about his work as a volunteer.

''I cherish my time on patrol with the Queenscliff surf club and with the local brigade - not just for the community service - but because working with people without a political agenda helps to keep politicians grounded in the real world,'' he said.

Earlier on Thursday News Ltd reported an internal email trail showed that Mr Abbott was set to announce the axing of a major government program, but a senior adviser urged him to drop it, describing it as ''a really bad idea''.

''I'd like to see more of the 'vision thing','' media adviser Andrew Hirst reportedly told Mr Abbott in reply to a draft of the speech.

Mr Abbott reportedly argued that the speech contained enough material to stay on message after the release of a glossy campaign booklet on Sunday.

According to News Ltd, Mr Abbott said the address contained enough personal stories ''for the commentariat to say . . . yes he is a good bloke, and yes he is more fair dinkum''.

Opposition media advisers are yet to respond to calls seeking comment.

Mr Abbott told the Press Club audience that the Coalition had been listening to the Australian people for the past two years.

''Our vision for Australia is about you.''

The Opposition Leader - who is known for his high work rate - said: ''Since the last election, I've visited 215 businesses, I've held 43 community forums, and I've hosted 33 morning teas.''

In the speech, Mr Abbott reiterated the Coalition's previous commitments to ditch the carbon and mining taxes, ''stop the boats'' and return the budget to surplus.

He resisted pressure to release further details of the Coalition's policies.

''The government thinks that by announcing September 14 as the polling day, it can force the Coalition to announce all our policy detail now. The Coalition will release our costings after the government releases theirs - after the budget and before polling day.''

Mr Abbott also moved to address concerns that he has a ''woman problem''.

''I want the best possible life for my three daughters,'' he said. ''I want it to be easier for them than it was for Margie to have a family and to keep a career.''

Referring to his commitment to the Coalition's paid parental leave scheme, he said he had a ''convert's zeal''.

''I deeply respect women's choices, including the choice to work entirely in the home, but the reality for the overwhelming majority of families, is that they need more than just one income to get by.''

He also confirmed a Coalition government would scrap the schoolkids bonus.

Mr Abbott's speech comes a day after Prime Minister Julia Gillard fronted the National Press Club to reveal September 14 as the election date.

Ms Gillard and senior ministers have repeatedly called on the opposition to spell out costed policies and explain what programs would be cut.

But the government is also yet to reveal significant savings to fund major plans including school funding reform and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

At Wednesday's address to the National Press Club, Ms Gillard said the government would announce ''substantial new structural savings'' in the lead up to and in the May budget.

The Prime Minister did not outline new savings but pointed to previous decisions including savings on tax breaks for golden handshakes and the means testing of the private health insurance rebate.

Mr Emerson brushed off questions over why Ms Gillard had not spelled out specific savings, saying the speech did outline the government's plans including to boost productivity.

He said the government had already outlined significant savings over its past five years in office and would do so again.

Mr Abbott on Wednesday said he was ready for the election, but signalled costed policies would not be released until after the May budget when the state of the nation's finances was known.

This article initially appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, via The National Times. Follow the National Times on Twitter.

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