'Fiscal vandals': Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey.

'Fiscal vandals': Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. Photo: Andrew Meares

I used to reflect on Tony Abbott's political skills and find it hard to deny he was an especially brutal and effective opposition leader, but how would this translate to government? Now we know. His is a government of excessive partisanship and vicious vindictiveness. He fuelled his obstructionist opposition, and now drives his partisan government, by the same primal motivating force: fear.

Australia elected a demolition expert as Prime Minister, but you don't keep the demolition crew on site once you start building the new house. The wrecking ball he swung as opposition leader is now being swung as Prime Minister.

In government, the conservatives are continuing to trash talk our economy, manufacture a false budget emergency and instil a general sense of public fear.

In their parallel universe, an economy 15 per cent larger than it was in 2007, unemployment with a "5" in front of it, a strong investment pipeline, low interest rates, low inflation and low public debt are all cause for alarm.

Why are they doing this? Particularly when the strength of the Australian economy is recognised around the world?

The fact is at the heart of the Abbott government’s economic agenda is a clear ideological intent to delegitimise progressive polices, particularly our world-beating stimulus package.

That is, there is no role for government in economic management to secure balanced and equitable economic growth. Fear-driven partisanship started straight away on election night when Mr Abbott delivered one of the worst victory speeches ever.

It could have been one for the ages, even perhaps some humility. Instead, he gloated over the Labor primary vote and engaged in other petty politicking. I remember thinking if you can shrink to this occasion, you can shrink to anything. And he did.

His first address as incoming chair of the G20 in Davos saw him churlishly lecturing his new G20 colleagues on debt and taxes. He tarnished Australia’s chairmanship of this global forum from the start.

It had been possible to believe there might just be a leader lurking behind the brawler, a statesman behind the bomb thrower. Sadly, there isn’t. He sets the tone from the top.

As Ken Henry has pointed out, sacking the Treasury secretary is something not seen in 114 years of the department’s existence. Treasury has a fierce tradition of independence. Abbott and Joe Hockey have now deliberately undermined this, giving the green light to the weakening of other vital institutions.The warning to the public service was clear: "If you implemented a policy the conservatives disagree with, we reserve the right to sack you." Indeed, the attack on the key institutions of government and revenge seeking has continued beyond the public service.

The attempt to slice up the Racial Discrimination Act just to raise half a cheer from the right-wing peanut gallery. Establishing unprecedented royal commissions on the home insulation scheme and the union movement, allowing access to the cabinet records of a preceding government and thus trashing a long-held convention. Just imagine the hullabaloo if a Labor government had instigated a royal commission into the Iraq War.

And, of course the sacking of Steve Bracks as the consul-general in New York and a general black ban on anyone associated with the Gillard government. And finally, establishing a supposed "independent" audit commission, whose express purpose was to do a hatchet job on the record of the previous Labor government and to justify the savage cuts the conservatives want to carry out against vital services.

They have co-opted the organs of government to falsify the evidence about the true settings of fiscal policy, as we left it to them. They are creating a sense of alarm in the community in an attempt to gain permission from the electorate to set about breaking their election promises not to touch education, health or pensions.

We keep hearing from Joe Hockey we need to "fix the budget". The fact is we left the budget in sound shape. In all of our budgets from 2008-09 onwards, including in the last budget, we faced up to the challenge of finding large savings. Many of our measures designed to protect the strength of the budget – such as means testing the private health rebate – were opposed outright by Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey.

They were fiscal vandals in opposition and have been fiscal vandals since being elected. They’ve doubled the deficit by some $68 billion over the forward estimates.

But now they aren’t just fiscal vandals, they’re also fiscal fabricators.

Like many Australians, I’m an optimist about the Australian economy, both in the short and the long term. The economy, because of the deployment of stimulus, came through the global financial crisis better than any other developed economy in the world.

Petty, spiteful, cynical and infantile behaviour by this government is not some minor issue of style, particularly when its fiscal fabrications diminish our nation’s international standing.  

This all causes real pain for real people. It causes bad government and bad outcomes across the board. Australia deserves better than that.

Wayne Swan is former federal treasurer and deputy prime minister. Twitter@SwannyQLD