Prime Minister Tony Abbott went on a bike ride yesterday along Victoria’s coast in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. He was first to cross the line in the 65km event. “It felt like 165km”, he said afterwards. 

He would have a lot of time to think during the ride and, I’d imagine, much of it spent mulling over the address he will give to the National Press Club tomorrow. It could be one of the most important speeches he ever makes.

His task seems as monumental as Cadel’s was in the Tour De France. Tony Abbott must clearly and succinctly articulate his vision for Australia, and then convince his colleagues, and us, that he’s still the man to lead the nation.

After the stunning electoral rout in Queensland yesterday, it’s now clear that Australians are not buying the kind of political ideology he’s pushing – one that promises to be for families and workers, and then goes after wages, conditions and pensions; one that promises nation-building, then only offers jobs building roads or down the mines; one that says it will make communities stronger, then axes citizen advisory boards for the disabled, the elderly and the rest; one that says it’s about the future, but will not invest in technological research or science, cuts funding to the ABC and trashes the environment.

So, the Australian people are entitled to ask: “Just what does a Liberal government have to offer us?”

If the Prime Minister has another story to tell, he’d better tell it – and fast – because he’s running out of people who will listen.

When the Treasurer, Joe Hockey gave his infamous “The Age Of Entitlement is Over” speech in the Budget last May and spoke of “lifters and leaners”, the question that was asked in the lounge rooms of Australia was: “Who is he talking about?” 

In August the Social Inclusion in Australia report showed that income inequality has risen sharply since the mid-1990s. While high income earner’s wages have risen, along with their incomes from investment and property, some 640,000 Australians experience multiple or entrenched disadvantage –  meaning they are disadvantaged by low income and poor health and have been for years.

Younger Australians are especially disadvantaged – with 14 per cent (590,000) of children under 15 living in jobless families and 15 to 24-year-olds making up more than a quarter of the long-term unemployed. Youth unemployment rates in some regional areas has almost reached 30%.

Australian’s are rejecting the neo-conservative policies of austerity  – cutting jobs and public services. And they do not like the privatisation of state assets – they never have. Voters are rejecting attacks on unions while big business avoids paying tax. They do not like the prospect of paying more for university fees and visits to the doctor. And they are increasingly worried about climate change.

So what’s the vision, Tony… and is a self confessed “MAMIL” – a middle-aged man in lycra – the one to get us over the line?

PS: I’d wear my crash helmet on Monday if I were you.

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