Mr Abbott, we expect that you have mixed feelings about the outcome of the election. To get as close as you did to winning is cause for elation and congratulation, emotions echoed in the media, where many considered you unelectable six months ago. Yet the countervailing emotion must be intense frustration at getting so close then losing in the post-election period. You are credited with winning the campaign, but losing the post-election negotiations.
No doubt you are angry that two of the conservative-leaning Country Independents decided to support Labor instead of the Coalition. Among the several reasons for this was the NBN, which you vowed to scrap, and you have since assigned Malcolm Turnbull the task of ‘demolishing’ it. The Independents saw this as essential for regional development. You did not, instead coming up with a cheaper, slower and less technologically advanced plan that experts consider inferior and far less capable of meeting the nation’s present and future needs. So one cause of your not gaining power was your intransigence about the NBN, insisting it was a ‘white elephant’ and a gross waste of public funds. Another reason seemed to be your attitude to climate change and your resistance to a tax on carbon. Your attitude to both these issues was born of an obsessive desire to ‘pay back debt’ ‘and ‘end the waste’, two of your most potent slogans. In pursuing these aims you overlooked what was best for the nation in telecommunications and combating global warming.
You wanted the electorate to believe that under the Coalition debt, deficits and interest rates always would be lower, the cost of living more reasonable, that waste and mismanagement would evaporate and we would all be better off than under an incompetent Labor administration that could never manage money or implement any program without it becoming a disaster. These were the raison d'être
for your fixation on austerity in budgeting, and no doubt the reason you attempted to make your budget look better than it really was by using specious assumptions. You were caught out with a black hole variously estimated to be from $4 billion to over $10 billion. The way you tried to avoid scrutiny by claiming there had been a ‘criminal leak’ from Treasury, now proved by the AFP to be not so, made the electorate and the Independents suspect you had something to hide, which turned out to be the case as revealed by Treasury once it finally got its hands on your figures. The media should have exposed the deceit but chose to downplay the black hole; indeed Michael Stutchbury categorized it as just a few ruts in the road. It would have been described as a massive chasm of earthquake proportions that would swallow the party completely if Labor had such a hole.
Although you know perfectly well that the only criterion of legitimacy of a government is the capacity to command a majority of seats in the House, which Labor clearly could after the Independents supported it, you still insisted it was illegitimate, and that since the Coalition had a better TTP it should be governing. As the AEC has now given its final TPP: 50.12% to Labor and 49.88% to the Coalition, Labor being over thirty thousand votes ahead, that argument is defunct. Even your claim of a higher primary vote is questionable as the Election Analyser
in The Australian
shows that with 93% of the votes counted Labor scored 37.99%, Liberal 30.46%, Greens 11.76%, LNP Queensland 9.12%, Other 4.42%, Nationals 3.73% and Independents 2.52%, with the rest bring up the rear. Only by combining the conservative vote could you claim a higher primary vote. As you insist Labor and the Greens are ‘in coalition’ their votes combined would give a primary vote well ahead of the Coalition. So even that spurious criterion doesn’t work for you.
So we hope you will now drop the ‘illegitimacy’ charge and accept that Labor is in power, and desist from attempts to dislodge it in favour of the Coalition, which you continue to hint you will do given any chance. The people have decided, close though it was, that Labor is the government. Accept it, even if it does stick in your craw, just as did your loss in 2007.
You have signaled your intention to ‘ferociously’ hold the Government to account; you use words like ‘demolish’ when instructing Malcolm Turnbull about the NBN; and your attitude since the election was decided remains as it was before, to attack relentlessly, to destroy Government policies, to disrupt, and do as your mentor Randolph Churchill advised: ‘oppose everything, suggest nothing, and turf the government out’. We would prefer you reflect on the fact that you have 74 members if you count Tony Crook, almost half the House, all elected by the people of Australia to serve their country. How can they do that if all you do is oppose everything and set out to destroy the Government’s legislation and indeed the Government itself? You talked of a ‘kinder and gentler ‘ polity and parliament, but everything you have done since uttering those words have suggested the opposite – that you will make it a harsher place with more aggression and belligerence. Attack seems all you understand, and since you probably feel it has got you to where you are, you likely see value in continuing it, notwithstanding the fact that it let you down in the post-election negotiations. Many feel affronted that so many elected Coalition members, all paid from the public purse, under your direction will engage in destructive behaviour attempting to tear down the Government and its legislative program, rather than contributing positively and helpfully to the good governance of the nation. What a waste! A kinder and gentler approach would win you and your members so much more kudos and admiration.
Frankly we are sick and tired of aggression and destructive behaviour and want to see some collaboration from you for the good of the nation.
You have got to where you are by a series of derogatory slogans repeated endlessly and echoed faithfully by a largely complaint and supportive media, particularly News Limited and The Australian
, that seems intent on promoting your cause, highlighting the problems in Government programs, never willing to concede the positive, the successful aspects. It reminds us of what happened under Josef Goebbels in Nazi Germany where he worked on the premise that if you tell a lie often enough eventually the people will believe it. You have told lies about Labor for years. How often have we heard: ‘waste and mismanagement’, ‘Labor cannot mange money’, ‘Labor is addicted to spending’, ‘Labor will always run the country into debt that the Coalition will have to pay off’, ‘Labor will never have a surplus budget’, ‘Labor will never stop the boats’, ‘Labor will never build a regional processing centre’, and so on it boringly goes. Whether you actually believe these slogans to be true or whether you use them because they work, we shall never know. And work they do: even Labor supporters when asked about the BER reflexly utter your slogans: ‘waste’, ‘rorts, ‘mismanagement’, ‘debt’, with no mention of the BER’s splendid addition to school infrastructure and the jobs it created. You have been brilliantly successful, with the aid of the media, in brainwashing a large part of the population.
Another highly successful slogan had been ‘A Great Big New Tax’, which you applied to emissions trading schemes, the most recent of which had the Coalition’s support until your party assassinated its leader Malcolm Turnbull, who negotiated the scheme with Labor. Of course you insist that because you are in Opposition, his assassination was not comparable with Labor’s assassination of Kevin Rudd. I wonder does Malcolm share that view?
You applied the GBNT mantra although you knew it was the polluters that would pay for polluting, and that any resultant increase in cost to consumers would be heavily compensated for by Government subsidies. You ran the line that every time the fridge was opened or the ironing was done the consumer would pay. Barnaby Joyce made an art form of that recital, adding his own idiosyncratic humor for good measure. You must have known that you were distorting the truth, the reality of the scheme, but what did that matter to you, so long as it worked? And it did. You managed to kill much of the public support for climate change action. Nice work!
GNBT worked so well that you applied it to the minerals tax schemes. You insisted that the miners paying their fair share of tax for mining our minerals would result in massive job losses, ruin the industry, kill the goose that was laying multiple golden eggs, and thereby deprive this nation of what you described as ‘the very industry that saved us from the GFC’, notwithstanding the fact that during the GFC the miners sacked a higher proportion of their workforce than did other industries and businesses. You scared workers in the mining industries witless with threats of unemployment on a grand scale, so much so that electors in the mining states, particularly in Queensland, turned savagely against the Government and brought it to close to defeat. Again your slogans worked; whether they represented the reality that would flow from a minerals tax was of no concern to you.
Your capacity for misrepresentation seems to have no bounds. We expect more grotesque slogans to fall from your mouth in the days ahead. But we are so weary of them.
You have chosen to keep many of your shadow ministries in their same positions. Have you no one better than Joe Hockey to be Shadow Treasurer? ‘Hockeynomics’ has entered our lexicon courtesy of Peter Martin to describe Joe’s bizarre thinking about economics, perhaps most flagrantly illustrated by his repeated attempts to convince us that the Government’s borrowings to service debt were pushing up interest rates. A Treasury paper: Reconsidering the link between fiscal policy and interest rates in Australia
featured in Peter Martin’s One in the eye for Hockeynomics
refutes Joe’s contention with: “Australian general government net debt has no impact on the short run real interest margin, and has only a small effect in the long run.”
But that did not stop Joe mouthing his mantra again and again, and of course you did nothing to control him. Why would you?
You chose also to leave Andrew Robb as Shadow Finance, the man who tried so lamentably to defend the indefensible black hole in the Coalition costings, and justify the Coalition’s reluctance to expose its costings to Treasury scrutiny with the ‘criminal leak’ accusation, now disproven. His incapacity for explaining economic data, particularly if it’s shonky, was shown up time and again as he muddled and stumbled his way through it, using language and reasoning that would confuse even an expert. Have you no one better? Is this the team, Hockey and Robb, which you would inflict on this nation if you were in power? We know you are disinterested and economically illiterate, so I suppose it would be over to them as it was after your budget reply speech and throughout the election campaign. Heaven help us.
We see you have retained Julie Bishop as Foreign Affairs spokesperson despite her ineptitude in that post. Remember her imprudent premature utterances about Stern Hu, and her flaunting of the convention of not talking about AFP matters when she went on national TV over the Israeli passports affair? Yet she stays in one of the most senior positions in the Opposition. What a prospect should you ever form government.
No doubt you consider your appointment of Malcolm Turnbull as Shadow for Communications and Broadband a stroke of brilliance. Have you checked if he has his heart in demolishing the NBN? We suspect he has not, and if that is so, he will make a very poor fist of it. Perhaps you have set him up for failure, for obvious reasons. At least the man has talent, which is more than one can say for much of your frontbench.
We can see why you have retained Christopher Pyne in his positions, especially Manager of Opposition Business, where his irritating persistence, snapping at the heels of the Government, raising interminable spurious points of order, and generally disrupting parliamentary business suits your purpose well. It seems that disruption is to be the order of the day, and we imagine that repeated points of order and dissent from the Speakers’ rulings will become the norm.
You can see that we are disturbed not just by your modus operandi
, but distressed that you seem intent on disruption, demolition, destruction, demeaning and damaging the Government at every opportunity, and determined to replace it with a Coalition Government – the party that really understands money and management and economics and governance, the party that can end the waste, pay back debt, stop new taxes and stop the boats, clearly the natural party to rule.
You are now regarded by your party room as a great leader who has rescued the Coalition from potentially long years in opposition and brought it close to government. Your aggressive, combative approach is seen as a major reason for this. Your inclination to continue in this vein will be strong and from all accounts this is the track on which you seem to have chosen to travel. Whether you have the insight to recognize that this approach is no longer appropriate, especially now that many see a ‘new paradigm’ of government emerging, or whether you have the capacity for any other approach even if you did, only time will tell. There are many, perhaps within your party, who would have doubts on both counts.
Andrew Elder summed up the situation well on Politically Homeless
in a piece: Timid and inept opposition
when he concluded: “Abbott has slipped back into attack-dog mode at the very time when people are starting to appreciate broader and more subtle ways of working in politics. He will probably succeed in fooling the similarly calibrated journosphere that he's a real threat, but he still hasn't addressed his economic and communications policy deficiencies, nor has he given serious thought to his party's future…. Timid and inept: Tony Abbott confirms his credentials for Opposition. The question is open on whether the Liberals want to stay there, and if not how committed they really are to Abbott as leader. “
That just about says it all.
What do you think?