Abbott unveils new policies

IT started out like so many Tony Abbott speeches - attacking Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her government.

But after some obligatory digs at the Gillard government over the carbon tax, Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper, the Opposition Leader settled into a serious policy discussion during his address to the Pratt Foundation in Melbourne on Friday.

The speech was billed as a landmark speech on the "Coalition's plan for stronger communities".

From start to finish, it was pitched directly at the people longing for a return to the "relaxed and comfortable" days of the Howard years.

He criticised the Gillard government's "class war rhetoric", and said a return to consensus government was needed, citing the approach of Mr Howard and Labor PMs Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

Mr Abbott used the speech to unveil two new policies.

The first was a promise to "renew reconciliation by adopting more imaginative ways to include Aboriginal people in the main-stream economy", while the second was a pledge to merge the two existing attorneys-general and police ministers COAG councils to "deliver more seamless law enforcement".

Mr Abbott said a coalition government would spend $10 million - taken from existing indigenous program funding - over two years on four trial sites training 1000 unemployed Aboriginal people for guaranteed jobs.

He said his government would work with mining magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest's Australian Employment Covenant to implement the program.

"Forrest's plan starts with the job rather than with the jobseeker," Mr Abbott said.

"Once the job has been identified, it guarantees employment to someone who wants the work enough to do the training.

"It addresses the key weakness of existing Aboriginal employment programmes: namely that people without much employment history tend to regard training as a waste of time, as training for training's sake, unless it's more-or-less certain to lead to a relevant job."

In outlining his law enforcement plan, Mr Abbott said a new strategy was needed to combat the "criminals" who don't respect Australian borders.

He seized on the news suspected people smuggler "Captain Emad" had left the country, with the Australian Federal Police powerless to stop him.

"Policy-makers have to take the insights of uniformed police more seriously," Mr Abbott said.

"People are sick of self-evidently absurd situations, such as the now notorious flight of Captain Emad, where the computer at the airport gate could identify a people smuggler but the government couldn't stop him."

He talked about handing communities more control over schools and hospitals because the coalition was "much more interested in an empowered community than we are in an empowered government".

The controversial paid parental leave scheme can now surely be counted in the coalition's core promise column after Mr Abbott again committed his party to the policy.

He said the scheme - under which mothers would get six months leave on full pay, subsidised by the government - was an "acknowledgement of contemporary social reality".

"At present, the only families that can have more children without damaging their financial position are those on welfare," he said.

"It's one of the reasons why the birth rate tends to be higher among people of lower socio-economic status."

A coalition government would also tighten access to disability pensions and reintroduce mandatory work-for-the-dole, which Mr Abbott euphemistically referred to as a "mutual obligation agreement".

Mr Abbott said the coalition was also committed to making the National Disability Insurance Scheme a reality.

He repeated the coalition's call for the establishment of a bipartisan committee - a motion expected to be moved during the next sitting week by Dawson MP George Christensen - to help build the scheme and "make it work".

But in calling for bipartisanship, Mr Abbott could not resist the urge to have a dig at the Gillard government, saying:

"Our worry is that a government which couldn't successfully insulate people's roofs is unlikely to get right a reform as complex as this."

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