UNDER THE FLAG

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The fairness test

Labor thinks it's on a winner - devoting Monday's question time to portraying the budget as unfair and asserting that Tony Abbott is responsible.

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It was one of the more memorable lines from last year's election campaign.

Unsurprisingly, it emanated not from the mouth of a politician, but from a man named Ian, who wore his best leather jacket and an aura of common sense.

Ian, a forklift driver, was interrogating then opposition leader Tony Abbott during an election debate at the Rooty Hill RSL.

His subject was Abbott's proposed paid parental leave scheme, which would give women who earned up to $150,000 a year their full salary for six months while they cared for their babies.

''I just think,'' Ian said politely, ''the fork-lift driver in Mount Druitt shouldn't be paying his taxes so a pretty little lady lawyer on the north shore earning $180,000 a year can have a kid.''

In that moment, Ian achieved what political spin doctors term ''cut through''.

His eloquent juxtaposition - between the Mosman ferry-riding, high heel-clacking, corporate gentlewoman-solicitor, and the humble fork-lift driver who spends his days lifting, both literally and in a metaphorical tax burden sense - was inspired.

Since then, the Labor Party has largely co-opted Ian's imagery to use in attacks on the Coalition's paid parental leave scheme, which has the peculiar status of being Abbott's most beloved policy and also the one he seems in no hurry at all to legislate.

But lately, the opposition has barely had to play the pretty little lady lawyer card.

The burden of criticising the scheme has been carried entirely by the Coalition itself.

On Monday, another Ian, this time Liberal senator Ian Macdonald, said his ''inclination'' was to vote against the scheme.

Other Coalition senators against the policy are John ''Wacca'' Williams, Barry O'Sullivan and Ron Boswell.

(Although it should be noted the latter's commitment to evidence-based policy has been under a cloud since he told a 2011 Senate hearing on global warming: ''Being someone who has spent his life in boats … I haven't seen any sea level change.'')

During Monday's question time, Labor got on board with Boswell and his anti-paid parental leave scheme pals.

''Can the Prime Minister explain why he and the Treasurer think it's fair to cut support from pensioners on around $20,000 a year while at the same time giving $50,000 a year to wealthy Australians to have a baby?'' shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen asked.

''I'm very proud that we are responsible for what will be a watershed, economic and social policy advance,'' Abbott responded.

''We took it to the 2010 election, we took it to the 2013 election and we will deliver it.''

Government members slumped their shoulders behind him, unsure whether that was a promise or a threat.

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