Ronald Reagan, you were wrong

It’s wonderful how that stuff I read in Politics 101 all those years ago is still relevant today. In fact initiative - resistance theory is startlingly more relevant now than it was then.

The idea in the 1930s and ‘40s was that Labor was the party of political initiative, and anti Labor was the party of resistance. Labor did things and the conservatives tried to stop them. Sounds like a perfect description of the current situation. The carbon tax, the mining tax, the NBN, education funding reform - no, no, no and no. National disability scheme and national dental scheme – probably no. Initiatives resisted at all costs.

Most political commentators, however, see the negativity of the Abbott led coalition as a political tactic to force the government to an early election. In theory, Abbott could still make positive promises before the next election. But if we look more closely at the initiative – resistance argument, we can see that even if Labor is only partially the party of initiative, the LNP is now entirely the party of resistance.

Initiative in this context means a willingness to use the state to meet aspirations for a fair and decent society. This could be achieved by state ownership of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy, such as banks, transport and power generation; government provision of services such as education, housing and medical care; and a social security system that insured against the pauperizing effects of illness, unemployment, and old age.

Resistance – and I’m being really balanced here – means a distrust of state activity, and a preference for the unfettered free market in achieving a fair and decent society.

Historically, neither party was all initiative or all resistance. A lot of what used to be thought of as Australia’s distinctive ‘state socialism’, such as tariff protection, arbitration, the basic wage and old age pensions was supported and extended by Labor governments, but had its origins in the liberalism of men like Alfred Deakin. Even when the liberals joined the conservatives in an anti-Labor alliance, these fundamental pillars of state activity remained unchallenged. And the conservatives had their own brand of state activism in the extension of rural infrastructure, the promotion of land settlement and marketing schemes for various commodities. (Government purchase of Cubbie Station, anyone?)

There was a burst of Labor activism during and after World War II, which saw existing social welfare provisions consolidated and expanded and Keynesian principles adopted to manage the economy. The Liberal government that followed didn’t extend any of this, but they didn’t abolish it either. The Whitlam Labor government was responsible for such initiatives as Medicare, free university education and commonwealth involvement in urban policy and planning. The Fraser Liberal government didn’t alter much of this either. Political scientists felt quite comfortable ignoring the whole issue of the role of the state in initiating a just society, arguing variously that these outcomes were the result of competition between elites, that the state was not a neutral organisation capable of being captured by either side of politics, or that the state was an expression of capitalist power and could only be used to enforce that power. Initiative/resistance disappeared as an explanation for political activity.

Then came globalisation, free market economics and the concomitant demonization of state activity, from state ownership through to mere regulation. This was summed up by President Reagan in his 1981 inaugural address. “Government is not a solution to our problem,” he said. ”Government is the problem.” Then followed a rush to demolish the edifice built up by the interventionist state. And in Australia it was the Labor Party under Hawke and Keating that led the charge. They cut tariffs and floated the dollar, giving up most of the old Keynesian levers for managing the economy. Then came large-scale privatisation of public assets by the Commonwealth, followed by State governments, both Liberal and Labor. Qantas, Australian Airlines, the Commonwealth Bank, state banks, airports, rail systems, power stations – the list goes on and on. Federal Labor also encouraged enterprise bargaining as the preferred wage setting mechanism, though they didn’t entirely abandon the Commonwealth’s industrial power. There was also a move to charge fees for services previously free, with a short-lived co-payment for Medicare services (later reinstated by the Liberals) and the HECS/HELP scheme whereby university students contributed to the cost of their education once they graduated. In relation to direct payments, compulsory superannuation was introduced to lessen dependence on the state in retirement. These changes evoked no resistance from the right, and surprisingly little from the left, who saw no alternative to deregulation, small government and market based solutions. (For someone who did, see Hugh Stretton, Australia Fair, 2005.)

After the Liberals formed government under John Howard in 1996, they privatised Telstra and the Commonwealth Employment Service; finding jobs for the unemployed was outsourced. But Howard made most of his contribution to economic rationalism through taxation policy and decisions about where to cut funding. His GST, which had more impact on the poor than the rich, allowed him to offer cuts in personal income tax, which mainly benefited the well off. This, from his point of view, had the double advantage of being electorally popular, and permanently reducing the size of the tax base, which in turn limited the capacity of government to spend on anything else. In addition he either cut, or failed to spend on areas like health and education. Cuts to university funding, for example, made them reliant on the market in overseas students, and partial deregulation of fees forced them further into competition in the local market. State aid to non-government schools – originally conceded in 1963 – was ramped up, making private education an option for more families. Commonwealth spending on public schools declined. The increasing cost of health provision was met with a rebate to those who took out private health insurance, rather than spending on the public health system – though this was admittedly complicated by confusion about federal-state relations. And then of course there was the attempt to deregulate the labour market (WorkChoices), by which they over-reached themselves, and lost the 2007 election.

The Liberals clearly agreed with Margaret Thatcher that “there is no such thing as society” and that “people must look to themselves first”. In this view, personal obligation trumps the right to welfare; there should be no sense of entitlement. Labor might have said that there was an obligation on the state to guarantee a given set of services to all citizens, but in practice there seemed little between the parties in their acceptance of economic rationalism. The outcome of such policies was to reduce the role of the state to a mere safety net for the poorest and most disadvantaged who were left behind by the market. If public health, public housing and education are only for losers and dole bludgers, there is no need to ensure they are effective – only cheap. Liberal willingness to proclaim personal obligation was partly obscured by the their fondness for middle class welfare through non-means tested benefits like the baby bonus, private health care rebate and the first home buyers grant. But these distortions of the market were electorally necessary to them.

The dangers of this preference for the private system can be seen in the interesting example of childcare. As more women entered the workforce, care for their pre-school children became a necessity. Labor introduced some assistance back in 1972; there were subsidies for both families and child care centres. But it was hardly an area where it was possible to make much profit and many centres were run by community or not-for-profit groups. Then during the late 1990s and early 2000s, the privately owned ABC Learning burst onto the scene, exponentially expanding the number of its centres both in Australia and overseas. The Howard government fully supported this apparent triumph of the market – until the company collapsed, throwing into confusion the child care arrangements of thousands of women. It was left to the incoming Rudd Labor government to clean up the mess, and find mostly not-for-profit operators for as many centres as possible. There never was a profit to be made from childcare – even out of the government subsidy to centres. All the returns came from expanding and franchising the business, and it needed continuous growth to cover its debt. To rely on the market to provide a service central not just to individual families, but to the whole economy involved a risk that should never have been allowed to happen.

Since Labor came to power in 2007, two things have further challenged a benign view of the market. One is the growing environmental crisis. On one hand the market makes unsustainable demands on resources, and on the other, allows the environment to be a free dumping ground for waste and pollution. Clearly there needs to be intervention in such a market.

The second is the Global Financial Crisis, which showed that markets are not automatically self-adjusting to create the best outcome for everyone; quite the reverse. They need careful regulation to shield citizens from the boom and bust cycle that appears inherent in them, and only government has the power to do this. Furthermore, the fallout from the GFC highlighted the differential way that markets distributed wealth. Instead of the trickle down effect assumed by Reaganomics, there seems to a syphoning up effect, which makes the rich richer and the gap between them and the poor wider. You can argue about the exact figures, which depend on precisely what is being measured. But there is no doubt that during the period following WWII, when state intervention was common, the gap between rich and poor in developed countries decreased. It is also indisputable that it has been growing exponentially since about the 1970s – just when free market ideology took hold. The disparity is worse in the United States and Great Britain than it is in Australia, but it is getting more pronounced here. Only effective action by the state can reverse this process.

So how have the Labor and Liberal parties responded to these challenges? Both initially endorsed an Emissions Trading Scheme – a market based mechanism – as the most effective way of reducing carbon pollution. But this nevertheless represented an intervention in the market that the Liberals ultimately couldn’t accept. Labor’s price on carbon will segue into an ETS, while the LNP has gone with a ‘government picks the winners’ direct action scheme, which won’t work, but will nevertheless require a lot more government involvement than a market based scheme. In reality, it seems likely a LNP government won’t actually do anything to modify the environmentally destructive process of the free market. Labor, on the other hand, gets a tick for taking action, even if it is through a market mechanism.

There is no reason to expect that the LNP will take action on the failure of the market and increasing inequality. Their response to the GFC was incoherent, but it is clear they would have used government stimulus less than the Labor party did, and they spend a lot of time criticizing that activity, with no acknowledgement of what it achieved. Aside from direct action on an emissions target, the only other policy announced by Tony Abbott is his paid paternity scheme – a gross example of middle class welfare. It’s because of policies like this – and opposition to any government attempt to cut back on such welfare – that critics found Joe Hockey’s speech condemning a sense of entitlement among welfare recipients so ludicrous – pot kettle black. But I’m not laughing. I think that the Liberals will follow the British Conservatives – to say nothing of the American Republicans - into a further retreat from welfare for the poor, and further market based service provision. They will persist with the deregulation of the labour market, whatever Abbott has promised. Indeed, as argued by David Marr and Bruce Hawker, Abbott’s world view is possibly formed more by the Catholic distributism of his mentor A.B. Santamaria, which gives a prominent role to government, than by classical free market economics. He doesn’t follow the low spending, low tax mantra of true free marketers in the party, such as Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull. If Abbott’s popularity continues to fall and the party decides to get rid of him, there are some in it who will heave a sigh of relief that the party can return to its true free market path. The Liberal Party remains close to the ultra free market Institute of Public Affairs – see their prescription for a free market Australia here. An LNP government will deserve the title ‘party of resistance’ more than any conservative government yet.

And what of the Labor Party? What the role of the state should be is hardly a question on every Labor member’s lips. But managing the economy in ways that promote greater equality should be core business. The National Disability Scheme, the Gonski model of education funding, increased spending on health and hospitals may not represent a coherent stand on government intervention, but at least they are steps in the right direction.

So where does that leave us? It’s clear there can be no going back to the old levels of government ownership or of government intervention in the economy. Market mechanisms like outsourcing and contracting out are here to stay. The market is still the best option we have for generating and distributing wealth. But unrestricted, it cannot produce a fair and decent society. We need to revive the idea of a mixed economy. There must be productive public/private partnerships, and effective and enforceable regulation. There should also be a proper assessment of what the market can’t do and government must do. Reagan was wrong: government is not the problem, and we need a vocal defence of the state as guardian of the common good. Come on Labor. Show a bit more initiative.

The Political Sword welcomes another new original contributor, Dr Kay Rollison, the author of this piece. She has a PhD in History and has always been interested in politics – historically, in the present and of course our future political battles.

The violent clash of political ideologies

Has it frustrated you that parliamentarians from the two major parties cannot seem to agree on much at all? Is this due simply to cussedness, an intention to disagree on virtually everything, or is there a more deep-seated reason?

In the case of the Coalition, opposition for opposition’s sake seems to be a conscious strategy of negativity that it has exhibited now for the last two years. Under the surface though, there seems a deeper stream of dissent, dissent that seems to be born of ideological positions, positions that differ from those of the Government. This piece explores those differing positions in just two aspects of policy: education and the economy, to ascertain how ideological differences sharply separate the two major parties.

Perhaps the subtitles ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’ that apply to the Labor Party and the Coalition respectively, express some of these differences.

Labor’s vision for the nation is focused on opportunity and fairness for all, from the poorest, the least advantaged, and the disabled, right across the spectrum of society to those with the best opportunities in life. Labor believes that opportunity is best mediated through education from preschool through school to university or TAFE training and apprenticeships.

We know this even before taking a look at the official Labor Party website. There, clicking on the ‘Agenda’ tab, or on ‘Policy’ at the foot of that opening page reveals several policies illustrated in graphic form; clicking on ‘More Policies’ reveals still more. Each graphic is linked to a page that elaborates.

For example, the School Reform page begins: “The Gillard Labor Government’s vision is to make every school a great school – because in the 21st century, a great school and a great education are the keys that unlock an individual’s potential and the nation’s future. Only with world class schools can we build a high-productivity, high-participation economy that gives all Australians the opportunity of rewarding and satisfying work.” It continues: “In government, Labor is delivering ambitious reforms that are already changing Australia’s schools – achieving more for our schools in less than three years than the Coalition delivered in almost 12”, pointing to the relative activity of the two Governments.

What is the Coalition’s vision? It’s hard to discern. Tony Abbott doesn’t speak about his vision for the nation. He spends so much time criticizing Labor and PM Gillard that he seems to have no time to tell us where he would take the country should he become PM. One has to go to the Liberal Party website to get any idea of the Coalition vision; there is no Coalition website. Three words are centre stage: Hope. Reward. Opportunity, under the heading: Real solutions for all Australians, whatever that means. There is no elaboration. A search for a ‘Liberal policy platform’ yields no results. I could not find a coherent policy statement, but there are tabs for several policy areas.

Since Labor has a strong focus on opportunity and education for all, let’s see what Liberal Party education policy is. We will protect choice is the prime theme, with an elaboration: “Protecting parental choice: All Australian children deserve a high quality education that enables them to develop the skills necessary to realise their potential. Unlike Labor, the Liberals support parental school choice because we actually believe in it. We will not punish parents for investing in their children’s education.”

They are some links to more detailed policy. The one on school education begins: “The Coalition is committed to quality schooling for all children. Schools should be about achieving excellence and equipping our children for happy and productive lives. Education should be a pathway towards prosperity – for individuals, their families and our nation as a whole. Yet under Labor it has been about spin, waste, bureaucracy and ineptitude.

“Nowhere has the waste and incompetence of the Labor Government been more apparent than in our schools. Promising an ‘education revolution’, the Rudd-Gillard Government has instead recklessly wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, leaving countless families disappointed by broken promises and ignored the needs of teachers and schools that face uncertainty about their future funding.

“This gross waste and mismanagement has compromised the education, services and assistance that our students need and deserve. Australian schools are clearly no better off than they were three years ago.”

There is more.

Note that the first paragraph begins with laudable principles, but even before it ends, there is trenchant criticism of Labor – in Liberal Party policy! And the censure goes on through the next two paragraphs, reflecting the Coalition’s incessant negativity towards the Government, which it cannot even keep out of its own policy statements.

The contrast in these two education policies is stark. While both embrace commendable principles, Labor’s is largely positive with scant reference to past governments, the Coalition’s includes many negative comments about the Rudd/Gillard governments.

Labor, through its many statements has made it abundantly clear that a great education is for all, not just for those who can afford private schooling. The Coalition is focused on choice, giving parents the right to choose where their children are educated, and not penalizing those who choose private education, which it claims Labor’s policy does. Clearly, it’s more concerned with choice than equity, which is not featured in its policy.

Labor’s policy has been implemented through initiatives such as the MySchool website, the National Curriculum, NAPLAN, computers in schools, the BER that provided thousands of new school buildings and amenities, enhanced teacher training, performance pay for teachers, smaller class sizes, and the assignment of a vast increase in funding of all sectors from preschool to university and skills training. It has put its money where its mouth is.

The Coalition emphasizes teacher training but eschews smaller class sizes, and believes that giving more money to education is not the answer. The actions of the Baillieu Government in Victoria in substantially reducing TAFE funding to the extent of forcing closure of some campuses, even in regional areas where educational opportunity is limited, illustrate the Coalition principle that reducing funding will produce better and more affordable results.

There you have the contrast – Labor’s equity and opportunity for all wherever they live, as against opportunity limited by funding, and a priority for parental choice and private education that characterizes Coalition policy.

It is sad that there is so little unanimity between the major political parties about education, which is so basic to our future.

The economy
Even more striking is the contrast between Labor and Coalition policies on the economy.

Labor’s policies for the economy are featured under several headings, but the overriding concept is: “A strong economy is important – it generates jobs for working families and helps us build a fairer society. The Labor Government’s response to the global financial crisis protected jobs and small businesses. This has placed Australia in a strong position to capitalise on future opportunities and to confront the economic challenges of the future.”

It’s policies are detailed under several headings:
Creating jobs and skills in Australia
Investing in a creative Australia
Science for Australia’s future
Advancing Australia’s Interests Internationally
A Good International Citizen
Labor’s plan for all small business
Increasing your superannuation to 12 %
My Super
Protecting Workers’ Entitlements
National Trade Cadetships
Tax plan for our future
Mineral Resource Rent Tax
Connecting Renewables
Building Better Regional Cities
Reward for Early Action
Strengthening Australia
Cleaner Power Stations
National Broadband Network
Fairer Simpler Banking
Carbon farming initiative
A secure and fair Australia

There is not room for them here in detail, and anyway you have heard them all. There are linked for reference.

The Coalition has similar statements on economic management under the heading Our Plan to get Australia Growing Again suggesting in the title that it is not growing now, which it is, at a substantial rate.

Unsurprisingly, it begins with a tilt against Labor:

“Tony Abbott and the Liberals stand for real action to end wasteful spending and real action to grow our economy. Labor, on the other hand, has turned a $20 billion surplus into record debt and has no plan to pay it back. We will continue to fight for Australian families who are paying the price for Labor's record debt with higher interest rates and rising living costs.”

There is no explanation of the meaning of ‘real’, and of course the ‘wasteful spending’ meme recurs, and incongruously ‘higher interest rates’ crops up despite them being at record lows, much lower than during most of the Howard era.

Beginning with a heading: Rebuilding Sustainable Prosperity, its substantive policy statement implies rebuilding is required. The general statements are reproduced below in some detail, as we have not heard much about them.

They begin:

“The Coalition is committed to sound, sustainable and consistent economic policy.

“Sound and sustainable economic policy leads to strong economic growth with low inflation.

“Sound and sustainable economic policy provides the resources to meet the community’s long term social needs on health, education, aged care, housing and income support.

“Sound and sustainable economic policy provides maximum opportunity for individuals to prosper and pursue their dreams and aspirations.

“Consistent policy based on consistent principles reduces sovereign risk and gives investors confidence for long term decision making.”

There could be little argument about these principles. The statements continue:

“The Coalition’s approach to achieving sound, sustainable and consistent economic policy will be based on a number of key principles.

“At the core is the belief that free, fair and competitive markets should form the basis of our economic system. The rights and choices of individuals are paramount. Individuals, rather than governments, are usually best placed to make decisions that maximise community well being.”

Note ‘free, fair and competitive’ and ‘rights and choices’, and that ‘individuals are best placed to make decisions’.

“The Coalition believes in small government. The Coalition acknowledges that government has a role in raising taxes and other revenue, formulating laws and regulations, and spending money to achieve legitimate social objectives.”

Note ‘small government’.

“However, the government’s powers to spend and to regulate need to be exercised with caution. Taxes must be as low, as fair, and as simple as possible. The Coalition is acutely aware that taxes are other peoples’ money.”

Note ‘taxes must be low’ despite the Howard Government being the highest taxing in Australia’s history.

“The Coalition strongly supports sustainable economic growth. Strong economic growth provides economic security. Strong economic growth ensures rising living standards.

“Fostering strong growth in productivity is an important element of this because it is ultimately the level of productivity that determines our standard of living. The Coalition believes that quality education is a foundation for high productivity. Policies which boost participation in the workforce are also of key importance.”

Note the emphasis on ‘productivity’.

”The Coalition strongly supports the small business sector. The Coalition believes small business is the engine room of the Australian economy.”

Note the emphasis on ‘small business’.

“The Coalition believes in a strong, prosperous and vibrant regional Australia.

“The Coalition believes in fiscal conservatism. The Coalition will restore fiscal rectitude. We will run a budget surplus over the cycle. We will repay Labor’s debt as quickly as we can.”

Note the emphasis on 'fiscal conservatism', 'fiscal rectitude', ‘a budget surplus’ and ‘repay Labor's debt’.

”The Coalition is committed to “light touch” regulation. Australia’s system of financial regulation weathered the global storm better than almost any other developed country. The Coalition will be cautious in saddling the Australian financial sector with more onerous regulation, which arises from the shortcomings of less well-supervised markets overseas. Financial Services is a truly global industry but its impacts are dramatic locally. More regulation constrains credit and inhibits innovation. Australia has led the world in prudential supervision, corporate regulation and market oversight. We must continue this global leadership.”

Note ‘light touch’ regulation, and be amazed at the concession that we have ‘weathered the global storm better than almost any other developed country’.

”Finally, the Coalition believes that government policies must lead to a sustainable Australia. Economic, population and environmental policies must take into account social harmony, quality of life, the provision of adequate infrastructure and the preservation of the environment.”

The details are given to enable comparisons to be made. Most of what is in Coalition policy is also Labor policy. The differences revolve around issues such as ‘free markets’, ‘rights and individual choice’, ‘small government’ and ‘light touch regulation’. Labor also wants low taxes, a budget surplus and to repay debt.

Superficially, it may seem that the differences are minor, yet they influence behaviour in a major way.

During the GFC, the Government took the Keynesian approach of ‘pump priming’, stimulating the economy with cash grants, infrastructure projects such as the HIP and BER, and small business tax breaks, as well as bank guarantees. While the Turnbull-led Coalition supported the first tranche of over just over $10 billion, it opposed the second, preferring tax cuts. The consensus by economists and international agencies is that the stimulus was appropriate and is the reason why Australia came through the GFC better than any other developed country, and continues to be the most robust economy in the world and the envy of other major nations, with its steady growth to trend, low unemployment, low debt to GDP ratio, low inflation and record low interest rates.

What we see here is a stark contrast between Keynesian thinking and that of Milton Freidman, who developed his macroeconomic ‘monetarist’ policy and extolled the virtues of a free market economic system with minimal intervention. He opposed ‘naïve Keynesian’ thought and action, which has now been replaced by neo-Keynesianism.

Another aspect of Friedman’s mode of thought is preference for ‘small government’ and implicitly, low spending government, and low taxes, especially for the wealthy on the grounds that the wealthy generate more wealth, create jobs, and that the wealth generated at the top trickles down to those at the bottom, so-called ‘trickle down economics’. In his book, Zombie Economics (Princeton University Press, 2010), which has the subtitle: How dead ideas still walk among us, Queensland University Professor John Quiggin, shows how a number of economic theories, although now debunked, don’t die, nor are they alive, they are simply ‘un-dead’ – zombie like. I have reviewed his book in Joe Hockey should read John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics.

Quiggin describes trickle-down economics as an idea that whatever benefits are given to the wealthy, they will filter down to the poorest. Quiggin begins: “As long as there have been rich and poor people, or powerful and powerless people, there have been advocates to explain that it’s better for everyone if things stay that way.” While great economists such as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mills and John Maynard Keynes have supported income re-distribution through progressive taxation, and most economists still do today, there are still some who argue that we should let the rich get richer and wait for the benefits to trickle down to the poor. One could be forgiven for thinking that is what Joe Hockey and the Coalition believe, as they insist on giving tax relief to the wealthy.

Quiggin gives example after example showing the trickle down hypothesis is false, and caps this with a telling graph of household income distribution in the US from 1965 to 2005 that shows that those on the 95th percentile for income steadily improved their position by over fifty percent, while those on the 20th percentile and below were static.

The contemporary debate in the US revolves around this trickle down notion. The extreme elements of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, are strong advocates of tax cuts for the wealthy and reduced government spending, even if that means repealing social benefit programs such as ‘Obamacare’ upon which so many of the poor rely for health care. Tea Party pressure has pushed the Republicans to oppose bills that would tax the rich higher so that social benefits could be offered, to the extent that if these bills are not passed by next year, the US might have to default on its obligations, a disastrous state of affairs for such a massive economy, which would have immense flow-on effects to the world economy and our own. This is why Wayne Swan has described these Tea Party elements as "cranks" and "crazies", as they push the US economy towards default, towards ‘falling over a cliff’, as Swan puts it. It is noteworthy that Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott have been quick to criticize Swan, presumably because they hold views similar to those of the Tea Party.

The now infamous Cory Bernardi, previously Abbott’s Parliamentary Secretary, is a strong advocate of these Tea Party policies, so much so that he is said to be ‘Sarah Palin without lipstick’.

In short, this comparison of policies on education and the economy, serves to illustrate that the ideologies behind these aspects of policy starkly differ between Labor and the Coalition, and that it is the ideology that drives the vigorous debate between the parties rather than the policy details. Ideologies are deep seated and invite contention and division. There could scarcely be more profound differences than those that exist on economics between the two parties. While both want a strong and growing economy and higher productivity, with one party focused on equity, the redistribution of wealth, and the provision of social services, and the other on boosting the wealthy at the inevitable expense of the less wealthy, it should not surprise us that ideological agreement between them is impossible. We saw this starkly exhibited on this week’s Q&A when Tanya Plibersek and Kelly O’Dwyer had a sharp clash, not on economic policy, but on ideology.

While Labor accepts debt as necessary to provide services, especially at times of recession, the Coalition regards debt as a sign of failure, and is only too willing to sacrifice expenditure on essential services such as education and health in order to 'repay debt', as we have seen LNP governments doing in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria in recent times.

We ought not be surprised that because there is so much disagreement on ideological grounds, agreement on policy details is impossible. It seems that as their ideologies can never meet, as compromise of these fundamental principles is unattainable, dissent is inevitable.

What do you think?

Gillard’s Men Problem

Gillard’s gender gap is man-made, and Abbott’s is all of his own making. There are many reasons why voters might dislike Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott that have nothing to do with their gender. But there has been a lot of commentary recently about Abbott's 'women problem', evidenced by a widening gap between his approval ratings with women as compared to men. The LNP is blaming this problem on a supposed campaign by Labor members Nicola Roxon, Tanya Plibersek and Deb O'Neill. Liberal member Kelly O'Dwyer inelegantly called this group a 'hand bag hit squad' when lashing out at them in parliament this week. Simon Benson wrote in the Telegraph that:

“All three have led the campaign to paint the Opposition leader Tony Abbott as a misogynist”.

What seems to have escaped the Coalition's attention, and that of journalists reporting this news, is that female voters' attitude to Tony Abbott has not been formed by anything recently said by senior Labor women. Nor has it been generated by David Marr's article in The Monthly in which he reveals that Abbott was an intimidating bully towards a female student at university. Women voters knew it already. When hearing this news story, Australian females did not collectively say 'well that's interesting, I didn't know Abbott's character was like that’. They collectively said 'I always knew he was a bully and had a problem with women, and now here is more unequivocal proof'. It also didn't help Abbott's cause that he denied the event occurred, thereby labeling the female victim as a liar. Doesn't this resonate with Abbott's campaign to paint Gillard as a liar in order to discredit her? Female voters have had a long time to get to know Abbott, and it's not just the way he walks or his inherent 'blokiness' that turns them off. It's because he says things like this:

“I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think they are both… they both need to be moderated, so to speak.”

or this:

“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”

Angela Shanahan is right when she wrote in The Australian that:

“Women are not fools at the ballot box: they vote for policies, not a leader's personality” (fire-walled of course).

But she fails to connect this argument with the point that females don't like Abbott because they know instinctively that a man who holds such attitudes about women (that is, his personality), will not, as a leader, develop policies that promote women's rights and interests. Furthermore, since Abbott tells voters so little about his future plans, women are left to judge for themselves what his policies might be, based on his personality.

The latest polls have highlighted that female voters’ perception of Abbott as a sexist bully is increasingly affecting their voting intentions. In this article Michelle Grattan reports that:

“Tony Abbott is seen as being significantly more arrogant, narrow-minded, intolerant, and aggressive than Julia Gillard, in a new poll underlining the Opposition Leader's image problem.”

In Grattan's article about the poll results on Monday, it is reported that:

“In an important finding in light of claims about Mr Abbott having problems with women and an allegation of intimidatory behaviour towards a fellow student in 1977, he is 12 points behind as preferred PM among women, but leads by 5 points among men.”

If Abbott's 12 point deficit among women is evidence of the situation outlined above, how can we explain Abbott being 5 points ahead among men? Easy. It’s because Gillard is 5 points down with men. So what are the reasons for Gillard’s gender gap?

Anne Summers’s recent speech: Her Rights at Work. The Political Persecution of Australia's First Female Prime Minister' might go some way to explaining Gillard's 'problem' with male voters. In this speech, Summers examines what she describes as:

“the sexist and discriminatory treatment of Australia’s first female prime minister by the Opposition and by some elements in Australian society.”

She describes a campaign that is:

“the deliberate sabotaging of the prime minister by political enemies, who include people within her own party, and who are using an array of weapons which include personal denigration, some of it of a sexual or gendered nature, to undermine her and erode her authority.”

I agree that such a campaign has been waged against Gillard. All the misogynistic abuse directed at her, detailed in Summers’s appendix to her speech, is horrifying. I also agree that this campaign aims to undermine and erode Gillard's authority, and has reduced her popularity amongst some men.

Part of the reason why Summers’s argument is so shocking is that we, as Australians, have to come to terms with the behaviour of these people, mostly men, who justify their revolting antics by saying they have free speech and can use this right to show their hatred of our Prime Minister. Even though women dislike Abbott, this has not produced the sort of vile response that male hatred of Gillard has. I am not sure if the sub header in this Telegraph piece has a typo, but if it was deliberate, it speaks volumes. The main headline reads:

“Male voters turning off Prime Minister Julia Gillard according to pollsters.”

The subheading says something similar, apart from one very important word.

“Julia Gillard has a man problem. As the popularity of our first female prime minister plummets, government insiders fear men are turning on Ms Gillard.”

Turning 'on' Ms Gillard. There is a lot of evidence that male voters don't just voice their opinions at the ballot box by turning 'off' a leader, in the way that women are turning off Abbott. Some male voters have turned 'on' her as part of the misogynist campaign described by Summers.

But does this fully account for the poll results? Unfortunately, no.

There are many male voters who are so unengaged with politics generally that they are unlikely to be directly influenced by the specifics of the misogynist campaign against Gillard. These are people who wouldn't have taken much notice of political media reportage, Tony Abbott's door stops, Facebook hate groups and Alan Jones anti-carbon tax rallies. Yet they still contribute to Gillard's poor standing in the polls amongst men. This leads me, sadly, to conclude that there are still many Australian men who are inherently misogynist and just not comfortable with a female in charge.

This situation is not unique to Gillard or Australia. An article in the New Zealand Herald reports on the polls in the lead up to the 2008 New Zealand election. The then Prime Minister, Labor's Helen Clark, was far more unpopular with men than her rival, National John Key:

“A gender breakdown of the poll reveals that National has 60.6 per cent support among males, miles ahead of Labour's 24.7.”

That's quite a gender gap! This article about the Democratic primaries race between Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama, discusses the influence of race versus gender in terms of their effect on voters, and concludes:

“one fact is clear. The primary data indicates that “more Americans see gender as more of a barrier in presidential politics than race”.”

Julia Gillard quipped to Barack Obama:

“you think it's tough being African-American? Try being me. Try being an atheist, childless, single woman as prime minister.”

It seems she is correct, her position is more difficult.

Could people argue that Abbott’s problem with women is similar to Gillard’s problem with men, and therefore the voting preferences cancel each other out? Could they say that this is simply a case of women voting for a female and men voting for a male? I don’t believe so. It’s not just because Abbott is a man that women don’t like him. It is because he is a horrible and sexist man. However, the difference in negative perceptions of Gillard amongst male voters as compared with woman voters can’t be blamed on sexism on her part, as nothing she has ever said or done has given the slightest ammunition to the idea that she unfairly discriminates based on gender. Abbott's disadvantage with female voters is self-inflicted, but Gillard's disadvantage with male voters appears to be innate, because she was born female.

The Political Sword welcomes a new original contributor, Victoria Rollison, the author of this piece.

She is 31 years old and lives in Adelaide with her fiancé and three cats. She enjoys current affairs, politics, reading, renovating houses, watching football, going to movies and most importantly…. writing! She works in the marketing/communications field and has many other community and social commitments in her life, but still finds plenty of time to write.

She runs her own blogsite: This piece will also appear on her blogsite. You can follow her on Twitter @Vic_Rollison

Bucket-loads of Biffo with the Bash Street Kids

The Principal of Bash Street Primary School was at her wits end until finally, salvation came to her and her long-suffering educational community.

For years, no Secondary School had been foolish enough to accept the enrolments of the Bash Street Liberal/National Coalition miscreants, who had been rascally led by that perennial pugilist, Tony “Harry” Abbott.

Art work removed at artist's request.

Then, on that heaven-sent day, the Principal got a phone call from the Vice-Chancellor of the newly refurbished Sydney University who, as part of her “Building Education Revolution”, said she was willing to enrol the gang as probationary first-year undergraduates.

“Halleluiah!” whispered the Principal to herself, “there is a god after all!” So, she packed the worthless crew off to Sydney, wishing the Vice-Chancellor the best of luck, as she was going to need it.

True to form, it didn’t take long for “Harry” Abbott and the rest of the Bash Street Kids to start playing up. As well as picking fights with all and sundry, they ran amok in lectures.

Art work removed at artist's request.

The bad reputation of the Bash Street Kids gang is spreading rapidly across the campus of Sydney University.

As well as the leader, “Harry” Abbott, the gang is comprised of a number of other colourful characters. There is : “Fatty” (for obvious reasons) Hockey; also “Erbert” Sheridan, who, even though he wears glasses, takes them off when Harry is around, so that he can say he didn’t witness the shenanigans he gets up to.

Also in the gang is Troy “Plug” Buswell, soon dubbed as “Prof. Plug, Chair of Sniffology”, as he likes to hang around after lectures and sniff all the front seats in the lecture theatre that had been occupied by the female students. And closely related to “Prof. Plug” are the evil sisters, Sophie “Plugella” Mirabella, and Julie “Plugena” Bishop.

Another member of the gang is CanDo “Wilfred” Newman, from Queensland. Wilfred is very recognisable as he is the one who wears his jumper right up to the bottom of his nose. It is said he does this as a means of hiding his identity, as he realises he really is “on the nose”. At times, moreover, Wilfy is also known, for hiding his neck and lower face under his jumper, as “Tortoise”.

And, another member of the Bash Street Kids gang is Malcolm “Cuthbert Cringeworthy” Turnbull. However, to say that Cuthbert is a bona fide member of the gang is stretching the truth a bit. The others only tolerate him because he is filthy rich and they can open up a tab in the refectory in his name. Also, Cuthbert is, unlike the other members of the gang, a dreadful nerd who, upon entering the university, had volunteered to be on the editorial committee of the student paper, “Honorable Swots”. Cuthbert, therefore, soon ceased to be even a peripheral player and was relegated by the gang to the category of “one of them”.

And, incidentally, as part of the ecologically-friendly dimension of her ground-breaking “Building Education Revolution”, the Vice-Chancellor ordered all the brick walls in the university to be replaced with wafer-thin ones made from recycled egg-cartons, filled with insulating pink batts.

For his part, “Harry” Abbott isn’t the least bit impressed by this Vice-Chancellor. Not only is she a girly chairthing, she is also into all this lefty pinko crap. She is, in Harry’s eyes, so effete, he dubs her, “Madame Butterfly”.

It didn’t take Harry long, therefore, to sus out how easy it is leave his impression on the university murals. His favourite party-piece is, garbed in his trademark boxer shorts, to put his fist through a wall. And to enhance his growing reputation for being the epitome of masculinity, he wears, under his boxers, a specially-reinforced metal jockstrap, fashioned for him by none other than the formidable Man of Steel, John Howard.

So, to cut a long story somewhat shorter, the Bash Street Kids have been on a roll, causing havoc, with “Harry” Abbott especially in great biffo form, punching holes in walls and giving the frightened staff and students inside the mocking “be prepared to meet thy doom” sign-of-the-cross or the insulting middle-finger salute.

However, after a while, the Vice-Chancellor has had enough. She has decided that the namby-pamby pastoral care approach is secondary to the efficient smooth running of the university. Immediately, she orders in the Maintenance Crew and issues them with explicit instructions.

Meanwhile, the Bash Street Kids are meeting at their usual table in the refectory. As normal, the room, except for the gang members, is empty. Even the serving staffs behind the counter have fled, so the gang are helping themselves to free choc milks and caramel slices.

“Harry” Abbott: Righto…listen up, you lot…here’s the plan of attack for today…First, we head down to the Chaplain’s place – I need to get my confession heard – and then we make our way, via wrecking a few lecture theatres, to the Vice-Chancellor’s office…

[A frenzied chorus ensues: “the bloody back-alley bitch!”; and, “yeah, let’s make an honest woman out of her!”; and, “let’s Whyalla the joint!”; and, “yeah, let’s slag and chaff bag the cow”; and, “can I go for a flying fox run between her ear-lobes?”

To quell the manic mayhem, Harry, imperiously, raises his hand. Immediately, and Pavlov-dog-style, there is silence. Then, slowly and deliberately, Harry rises to his feet, shouts “Let’s play ball!” and the gang takes off, at a raucous rate of knots, out of the refectory and down the corridor, with Harry issuing liberal doses of punches to sundry walls as he progresses.

As planned, the Bash Street Kids gang’s first port of call is the Chaplain’s office, so that Harry can get his confession heard. Upon reaching the Chaplaincy, Harry notices the green light over the confession box is lit, so he punches a hole in the door.]

Cardinal Pell [exasperated]: For God’s sake, Harry…I wish you would stop doing that…Every day you come to confession and every day I have to get the door replaced…And, as for that ridiculous-looking jockstrap you wear…it really is so immodest – you make Blackadder’s most bulbous codpiece look like a concave mirror…

[For the sake of the peace of the sacrament, Harry humours George and removes his jockstrap.]

Cardinal George: And anyway, Harry, I think you are abusing the true spirit of the sacrament…You can’t just turn it on and off like a beer tap in the Student Bar, y’know…

Harry: But…but…but…your eminentship…isn’t that the whole point of confession – I rock up to parrot my sins and you dish out the absolution, so that I can inflict Groundhog Day again on all my hapless victims…heh…heh…

Cardinal George: Erm…Harry…it doesn’t work that way, I’m afraid…as my esteemed predecessor. St Augustine used to say, genuine contrition is necessary for the sacrament to be efficacious…

Harry (very peeved by this stage): Now listen up, me bucko…you have two choices – either you grant me absolution every day, or I punch your lights out and you end up like that troublesome priest, Thomas Becket…which is it?

Cardinal George: I absolve thee, in the name of the Father…

[So, Harry Abbott reckons he’s now free to create some more guilt-free mayhem, and the Bash Street Kids continue with their nihilistic charges down even more corridors, with Harry punching even more holes in walls. Eventually, they reach Prof. Roxon’s lecture theatre. Harry delivers his customary punch through the wall and middle-fingers the illustrious professor, who, understandably, is fit to be tied by such a lack of respect. Whilst, inside, the fear-ridden students compete for corners to cower in, Prof. Roxon strides defiantly over to the door, opens it forcibly and eye-balls Harry.]

Prof. Roxon: Harry Abbott!!! What do you mean by this outrageous disruption of my class!!! And, furthermore, you are enrolled in this course – the lecture commenced half-an-hour ago – why are you late?

[Not having much experience of being challenged by an assertive female, Harry, muttering “that’s bullshit”, turns on his heel and the gang continues on with their rampage down the corridors. Shortly, they encounter a group of cleaning staff who are chucking bags of refuge down a garbage chute adjacent to the Staff Canteen. Upon witnessing the rampaging gang pillaging and punching their way towards them, the cleaners, utterly panic-stricken, dive, in search of succour, head first down their own chute. Some of the garbage bags thrown into the chute, however, contain food scraps from the canteen. The super-sensitive olfactory glands of “Fatty” Hockey are immediately put on notice.] “Fatty” Hockey: Mmmmmmm…fooooooood!!! I smell a snack coming on…I think I’ll just make a detour down the chute and sample some of those tasty morsels down there….yummmmmm…

“Harry” Abbott (very annoyed): Fatty!!! Don’t even think about it!!! We’ve got a job to do here, which instead involves making a dog’s dinner of the Vice-Chancellor’s office and then taking over the whole joint…

[Fatty, however, insists on having a free feed down the chute and persists in mutinously back-chatting Harry, who loses it and delivers an almighty punch to Fatty’s gob, hitting him so hard he falls into the opening of the chute, disappearing immediately into the void therein.]

Harry: Right…that’s settled his hash once and for all...And he should be quite at home down there…after all, he was always fond of black holes…bwahahahaha…

[Like a band of vicious Vikings who have overdosed on their pillaging pills, the remaining members of the Bash Street Kids gang wreak further havoc on their way to their final destination – Madame Butterfly’s Vice-Chancellor’s office. However, as they proceed, the membership of the gang gradually dissipates.

For instance, after “Harry” Abbott has punched yet another hole in a lecture theatre wall, he looks through the little glass window in the door and spots a student inside who is confined to a wheelchair, and is breathing oxygen through two tubes inserted in his nostrils. Harry turns to “Wilfy” Newman, aka TheTortoise, who is still on the nose with his jumper pulled right up.]

Harry: Righto, Wilfy…you tortoises have sharp beaks…you can rejoin us later on our rampage…but, in the meantime, I want you to wait here until the lecture’s over, and when that malingerer in the wheelchair comes out, use your beak to slice through his oxygen tubes…hee…hee…

“Wilfy” Newman: You reckon he’s not pure of heart, boss?

Harry: Got it in one, Wilfy, old son…and no better man than you to complete this assignment…after all, with all your experience of cuts, you’d put Jack the Ripper in the shade…heh…heh…

[Also, Julie “Plugena” Bishop comes across a photocopier in a corridor and, as usual, is hooked. Similarly, her equally nasty twin, Sophie “Plugella” Mirabella goes AWOL – she reads a notice on a lecture theatre door advertising a class on “The assets of the elderly”. Without a second thought, Plugella rushes in, kicks a poor unfortunate, very-mature-age, student out of her front-row seat, and is all ears.

Moreover, in another rush along a now-devastated corridor, Greg “Erbert” Sheridan loses his specs, runs into a pillar and knocks himself out. Also, having punched multiple holes in the walls of the hated “Wimmin’s Meeting Room”, clearing it of its shrieking incumbents, Harry then proceeds on his merry way, oblivious of the fact that Troy “Plug” Buswell has broken ranks and stayed behind in the now-empty Wimmin’s Room, sniffing the recently–occupied seats voraciously.

So, by this stage, “Harry” Abbott has reached the Vice-Chancellor’s corridor, not realising, however, that he is the sole standing member of the Bash Street Kids gang. Suddenly, the door of the Vice-Chancellor’s office opens and out strides Madame Butterfly herself, red hair aflame, nostrils flaring so ominously and widely, they would make Krakatoa look like the Sea of Tranquility.]

Vice-Chancellor: Harry Abbott!!! You just stop this instant!!! I’ve had a gutful of your antics!! Clean out your locker and remove your sorry carcass from the establishment!!! You and your Bash Street Kids can go straight back to primary school – that is, if they’ll have you…

Harry (confidently): Get her, guys!! The Vice-Chancellor’s office is ours for the taking…Phone a friend, bitch…we’re in charge now…heh…heh…

[Harry, however, suddenly realises his mates are as plentiful as pork chops at a Jewish barbeque. Undeterred (“she’s only a woman after all”, he thinks to himself), Harry aims a punch at the Vice-Chancellor’s head, which he is sure will result in her turning into a gibbering girly wreck, lying pitifully on the floor, crying for mercy.

However, The Vice-Chancellor sees the attempted punch coming a mile off, side-steps adroitly, and Harry’s fist lands on the wall adjacent to her office door. Little did Harry know, but when the Vice-Chancellor called in the Maintenance Crew earlier, they had replaced that section of the wall with bricks, instead of the previous fragile walls made of egg cartons and pink batts. Harry emits such a cry of anguish and pain, he sounds like Twiggy Forrest after he heard about the fall in Fortescue Metal’s share price.

As Harry skips in excruciating pain from one foot to the other, holding his broken and bleeding knuckles, the Vice-Chancellor lifts her knee expertly, and decisively, into Harry’s nuts. He crumples to a pathetic heap on the floor. By this stage, moreover, the University Security Squad has arrived.]

Vice-Chancellor: Just in time, guys…take him down-town…heh…heh…

Harry (in a hushed, barely-audible tone): Huh…this is your Dirt Unit, I presume…

Vice-Chancellor: Nah, mate…you’re the only piece of garbage around here…

Harry: I still can’t believe I’ve been out-smarted by a girl…boo…hoo…

Vice-Chancellor: Too right, mate…shit happens…you should have realised it would be a big mistake to stuff around with me…As I say, “mess with Madame Butterfly – you get my knee!”…heh…heh…

The Punch

Gerard Henderson must have been worried about the impact of a story about Tony Abbott’s politics during his university days. According to David Marr’s account in his Quarterly Essay: Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott (Black Inc), Abbott approached Barbara Ramjan, who had just beaten him in the SRC presidential election, she thought to congratulate her, but instead, as Ramjan claims, “He came to within an inch of my nose and punched the wall on either side of my head."

Henderson saw the obvious resemblance to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, first a book, then a TV series. He was so concerned that he mounted a spirited defense of Abbott on Insiders on 9 September (the story begins at 4.20 and Henderson chimes in at 5.18). You will note how angry and agitated he is as he mounts his denials of the story. Determined to kill the story, he then wrote an article on 11 September in The Canberra Times Condemnation by long memory tends to stretch matters, in which he makes the case that the incident never happened.

Henderson recounts that “David Marr told Geraldine Doogue on RN Breakfast that "the incident … was remembered very vividly" by Ramjan and that "she has been telling" people about it "for 35 years”, but Henderson categorically discounts this. While agreeing that it was “an intimidatory gesture, to be sure”, he adds: “If, of course, it ever happened.” He then goes on to argue that 35 years is a long while back, that memory fades, that this is the first we have heard about it, and that there were no witnesses. But later he says there was a witness, "a distinguished Sydney lawyer" who referred to the Liberal Party leader's past "negativity and destruction", but adds: “Since this lawyer is now so distinguished, you wonder why he/she insists on anonymity.”

Henderson’s claims are questionable - Ramjan not only insists she has been telling the story for 35 years, but also the lawyer is no longer ‘anonymous’. He is Sydney barrister, David Patch, former judicial registrar of the Industrial Relations Court and of the Federal Court, and an ALP candidate for Wentworth in 2004. He corroborated Ramjan's claim that Tony Abbott behaved in an intimidatory fashion when she beat him in a vote for Sydney University SRC president in 1977. Writing in The Age on 13 September Patch says: ''I did not see the incident, but I was nearby. The count had just finished. Barbara found me. She is a small woman, and Tony Abbott was (and is) a strong man. She was very shaken, scared, and angry. She told me that Tony Abbott had come up to her, put his face in her face, and punched the wall on either side of her head. So, I am a witness. Barbara's immediate complaint to me about what Abbott had just done had the absolute ring of truth about it. I believed Barbara at the time, and still do.'' Patch also confirmed that Barbara Ramjan has been telling that story about Abbott ever since, describing it as ''that old chestnut!''

Patch went on to state that this was not an isolated event, and cited how as president Ramjan did not want to be called ''Mr Chairman'' but preferred ''Chairperson'', yet for a whole year, Abbott called her ''Chairthing'' whenever he addressed her at SRC meetings, which Patch saw as a “gender-based disrespect for her office and her person, remarkably similar to the disrespectful way that Abbott treats the Prime Minister and her office today.”

Patch added: “…it was his personally offensive behaviour that stood out. He was always (verbally) attacking gays and feminists and lefties. You certainly knew what he was against - the trouble was that you couldn't figure out what he favoured,” adding: “Once again, the parallels with the way he operates today are, to those who knew him then, quite remarkable.”

Abbott's first reaction to the Ramjan claim was to say that he had no recollection of the incident but "it would be profoundly out of character had it occurred". Later he amended that by saying categorically: "It never happened", a line he has repeated ever since, even on the Today Show on Channel Nine on Friday, when he first emerged from his media silence to confront the story. Marr reports that these statements are the only ones from his long interview with Abbott that were ‘on the record’.

Although the story fits with others about Abbott’s aggressiveness, Henderson was having none of that, and repeated the Abbott line. He writes: “Well, it is impossible to have a recollection of an event that never happened. Even so, Marr and some others are now suspicious that Abbott has restated his position…”. Indeed!

The dander of the Abbott acolytes though was well and truly up. Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor at The Australian, who says he was Abbott’s best friend at university, wrote a blistering piece: The Tony that I - and others - remember was never violent at uni. Describing Marr’s Essay as “scabrous propaganda”, Sheridan condemns “…his overall sloppiness as a journalist, failure as a historian and distorting bias as a polemicist.” First, shoot the messenger!

Sheridan goes through the story of the incident and concludes: “Abbott was my best friend at that time. We talked over everything. The meaning of life, the purpose of politics, who'd win the rugby league grand final, what girls we planned to ask out, petty squabbles we might have had with our parents. I remember the night in question quite well. No such incident was ever discussed by Abbott or by anyone else in his circle. It is utterly inconceivable.” At the end he says: “I knew Abbott very well and he was never, ever violent. He was a good bloke then, he's a good bloke now. Marr's dishonest and obsessive agitprop is a fraudulent caricature that manages to reverse reality at almost every point.”

A complete whitewash in print was not enough though for Sheridan. He appeared on ABC News Radio in an interview with Marius Benson. You have to listen to this six-minute interview from beginning to end to get a feeling for Sheridan’s anger at Marr’s Essay and the Ramjan story. He condemns Marr in vitriolic terms accusing him of obsessive hostility to Catholicism, accuses the ABC of a “…worshipful, uncritical interview of Marr on Lateline, which he describes as a ‘disgraceful episode’ of which the ABC should be ‘utterly ashamed’.

In my opinion, the anger of Sheridan and Henderson bespeaks extreme fear that the revelations about Abbott’s university behavior, true or denied, will severely damage him politically, and that they must pull out all the stops in an attempt to minimize the damage. Abbott’s political colleagues have been strangely silent.

Writing in New Matilda, professional cartoonist Lindsay Foyle, in a piece titled: Abbott Threatened Me Too, recalls an incident in the 1970s when he was working for The Bulletin, “…when Greg Sheridan, the education writer, arrived with some people who did not work with us…The interlopers were soon identified as radicals involved in student politics at the University of Sydney. It did not end well. They quickly explained how the world went around and why they had to extinguish their opposition at the university and the rest of the country. Unfortunately, I did not agree with everything that was said and a few feathers got ruffled. The main point of contention was a woman’s right to control pregnancy, either via contraception or abortion. My view was that it was something those involved should settle on, not people like me who didn’t have to live with the consequences of the decision. To the activists that view was just as unacceptable as abortion.

“The largest of the lot was a person named Tony Abbott. He decided the quickest way to settle our differences was to take me downstairs and demonstrate how I was wrong by punching my head in. This was not the way I wanted the evening to go…Punching heads in was something Abbott did well. A few years after he demonstrated how good he was in the boxing ring at Oxford University where he flattened anyone silly enough to get into the ring with him.

“Before Abbott had a chance to damage his knuckles on me, Sheridan interceded and got between us. He calmed Abbott down by suggesting this was not the way to settle differences. I was very pleased he did. The point was taken and the discussion ended. Then the students all departed…It was a serious incident and was witnessed by a number of journalists who were at the time working for The Bulletin. Some were still talking about it in the office the next day. In fact it was a topic of conversation for many years.”

So much for his aggression being ‘profoundly out of character’, as Abbott claims! So much for Sheridan’s assertion that Abbott was ‘never violent at uni’!

Another anonymous person has now come out in support of the Ramjan claim and says he is willing to write a statutory declaration to that effect, but the Abbott camp has peremptorily dismissed this.

On talkback radio, the commentators have been out in numbers dismissing the charges against Abbott as implausible, inconsequential, of no importance to contemporary politics, and, somewhat hopefully, asserting that it will make no difference to Abbott’s electoral chances.

Abbott first claimed that the story was not only false, but the product of a Labor ‘dirt unit’, a claim that the publishers of the Quarterly Essay deny as ‘completely implausible’, and an attempt to ‘shoot the messenger’. David Patch has vehemently denied any contact with members of the Labor Party. The ‘dirt unit’ claim looked like a deliberate attempt at distraction by Abbott, and in a weekend article: 'Dirt unit' not source, concedes Abbott, Michelle Grattan reveals that Abbott “has conceded that David Marr…heard about it from other sources.” So let’s hope that notion is put to bed.

The weekend press makes fascinating and predictable reading. Paul Kelly writes a quasi-objective article: Demonization of Abbott is Labor’s new game plan, in which he quietly lets Abbott off the hook. Greg Sheridan has another go under the anomalous heading: Selective Cold War Memories, but the subheading gives his intent away: David Marr’s account of Tony Abbott’s student days is biased and untrue. It features a lovely photo of Tony with his parents on his graduation. Christopher Pearson writes: Tony Abbott is not homophobic. You can predict the rest. Angela Shanahan writes a piece about campus politics in Abbott’s days, and say she doesn’t care about the ‘wall-hitting’ incident. Dennis Shanahan seems to be having a day off! The second editorial in The Australian: If only the walls could talk with its subheading: Labor’s personal smear campaign could backfire, is unsurprisingly defensive of Abbott, but seemingly unaware that Abbott had already backed away from his ‘Labor dirt unit’ accusation. The first two ‘Letters to the Editor’ are defensive of Abbott.

As we would have expected, The Australian is stridently defensive of Abbott. The intensity of its offerings suggests it is deeply disturbed at this turn of events, as well as hopping mad, and is out there defending its man with all its muscle.

Other News Limited outlets don’t say much, but Laurie Oakes is unforgiving in his piece: Punch or not, Tony’s aggression is a worry, and Dennis Atkins writes a critical article: Abbott needs to bring back his old candour.

Fairfax is pretty quiet. Apart from the Grattan piece, Tony Wright writes a ‘we all did stupid things in our youth’ article that is not worth the time it takes to read it.

Today’s Insiders gave little time to the Marr Essay. When asked, program guest Tanya Plibersek offered the view that Tony Abbott ought to apply the same standard for disclosure of past events as he demands of others, but that he seemed reluctant to do so, walking away when the questions get tough. The preamble to discussion of the Ramjan affair showed Wayne Swan in parliament using the term ‘Biffo’ to characterize Abbott in an oblique reference to the affair, and then the panel took a desultory walk around the wall-punching event, concluding that Abbott made matters worse for himself with his confusing response – first that he couldn’t remember, then that it never happened, finally conflating the two into a bewildering and implausible defence. The ‘Talking Pictures’ segment did not mention the matter.

No doubt, there will be more talk about this matter in the media in the time ahead, with strong claims that it is true, and equally vehement denials. As we may never know the full truth of the matter, each of us will have to reach a judgement ourselves based on the evidence and the plausibility of the participants. For me, the story seems more plausible than false. Abbott’s denials, coming as they do from a habitual liar, do not ring true to me. You will have to make up your own mind.

Abbott has form though when it comes to losing elections. On another occasion, he kicked in a glass panel in the SRC front door after narrowly losing an election for student fellow in the University Senate. This intense anger at losing an election, anger that persists, was seen again when he lost to Julia Gillard in the fight to form minority government in 2010.

Archies Archive gives an interesting account of that long past election loss and details of more recent behaviour in Where There is Smoke -: “In the years following that loss, he was repeatedly accused in the university paper of being a right-wing thug and bully who used sexist and racist tactics to intimidate his opponents.” A teacher who was at Sydney University with him has described him in these terms: "He was a very offensive, a particularly obnoxious sort of guy. He was very aggressive, particularly towards women and homosexuals". Has he changed?

Despite its dramatic aura though, is the Ramjan event really the main issue? To me the details of this story are not as crucial as is the recurrent pattern of behavior that we see in the man who seeks to be our prime minister, our leader. Tony Abbott has longstanding form when it comes to aggression, belligerence, intimidation, bullying, destructive behavior, and misogyny.

Let me draw a parallel between Abbott’s use of ‘chairthing’ in addressing SRC president Barbara Ramjan, and his constant use of ‘this Prime Minister’, ‘her’ and ‘she’ in QT and press interviews. This is the same childish attempt at intimidation.

Abbott’s continual use of the term ‘untrustworthy’, his regular reference to her ‘lying’ about the carbon tax, is meant to be intimidatory, and if PM Gillard had been less resilient, would have been.

Reflect on how Opposition Leader Abbott addresses his questions to PM Gillard in QT. He is habitually aggressive, belligerent, angry, and disrespectful as he asks his questions. Recall how he has spoken to and about PM Gillard in the numerous Motions to Suspend Standing Orders. The bullying anger he displays, the disrespectful words he uses, and his finger poking gestures are archetypical – it is the same aggressive behavior that blighted his early days.

Remember the incident during the 2007 election campaign when Abbott was late for a debate on health with Nicola Roxon, who on being told by her that he ought to have been on time said: "That's bullshit. You're being deliberately unpleasant. I suppose you can't help yourself, can you?” Three female ministers assert that Abbott has a problem with women in power, to which he replies that he is a modern man who works under women all the time!

So let’s not buy this nonsense that what happened 35 years ago is past history, irrelevant to today’s politics and Abbott’s quest for the top job, and simply the behavior of a rough and tumble, wild young fellow who is now a changed man. Abbott’s behavior then is Abbott’s behavior now. Nothing has changed.

We ought not to be surprised.

Almost three years ago, just ten days after his election to Opposition Leader, I wrote in The pugilistic politician: “Tony Abbott’s recent threat to ‘give the Government the fright of its life’ is code for the new leader’s real metaphor – to give the Government the fight of its life. Have you noticed how aggressive and combative Abbott has become since his election? He has always had a reputation as a pugilist – his boxing exploits during his Rhodes scholarship at Queen’s College, Oxford are legend. But he seems to have kept this tendency under control pretty well while in the Howard Government, except of course when Howard used him as his attack dog…”

But on election, “…with nothing much in the ledger but opposition to almost everything the Government was trying to do, trenchant opposition to the Government’s ETS leading to its defeat, a heap of political baggage, a mediocre team, and a disgruntled ex-leader…he reverted to what he knows best – pugilism. For some he may appear like a threatened animal trapped in the hunter’s spotlight, and that his ‘fight to the death’ approach is merely reactionary, merely a strategy for survival. That may be partly true, but it seems more likely that fighting is his natural response to any challenge.”

“In fact he wants a fight on everything. Abbott intends to criticise everything the Government does, to fight everything it attempts to do, to refuse to collaborate on anything, and to decline to reveal any policies until the last moment…”

“So to what can we look forward? If one can judge from Abbot’s demeanour and performance during the last week, from the look in his eyes, from his aggressive attitude, from his determination to fight in hand to hand combat, we are in for a ruthless, cruel, bare-knuckle fight with no holds barred. This week Abbott reminded me of the familiar scene before a prize fight when the combatants line up – hairy-chested, jaw-jutting, throwing punches in the air, loud-mouthed, asserting their prowess, and promising to knock their opponent out early in the bout…we can expect Abbott, the pugilistic politician, to attack Government policies and actions incessantly and relentlessly, to keep Coalition policies under wraps as much as possible to avoid having to defend them, and to exhibit venom, vitriol and vituperativeness the like of which we have not seen in politics in Australia for a long while. It will be unremittingly ugly.”

If it was so easy to predict Abbott’s behavior three years ago, why should anyone be surprised that the aggressive, combative, belligerent, intimidatory, destructive Abbott that we know now is the same as he always has been? Why should the Ramjan episode be painted as an aberration from an earlier time when that behavior is still so obvious today?

Of course, as LadyinRed points out, apart from Abbott’s aggressive behavior, Marr’s Essay shows that “Abbott is the same man, deeply religious, looking back rather than forward, very conservative, very retro thinking”. It is Abbott trying “to refit the past into the present”, as manifest by extreme policies towards for example, abortion, that ought to alarm us as much as his behavior. That is for another piece.

‘The Slap’ was a sad story about how an incident at a family gathering simmered under the surface, stirring deep-seated family tensions until it erupted into angry discord and distressing family disruption.

‘The Punch’ threatens to do the same to the Coalition family; its leader, the would-be prime minister, the Honorable Tony Abbott, is entirely to blame.

Because his behaviour is as unpleasantly belligerent now as it was 35 years ago, the prospect of an Abbott prime ministership is as frightening as it ever was.

What do you think?

More reasons why I admire PM Gillard

The previous piece Why I admire Prime Minister Gillard spoke of PM Gillard’s courage, vision, and her focus on getting things done. This piece highlights her competence, her personality and her integrity.

I suspect even her sworn adversaries would concede, at least in private, that PM Gillard is highly competent. Indeed it is her competence, her capacity to understand issues and get things done, that gets up their nose.

Grounded in industrial relations, she brings around twenty years of experience to bear on this area. Her record as Deputy PM was outstanding in ridding this country of WorkChoices and introducing Fair Work Australia. It is not yet perfect; more work is being done to accommodate the concerns and needs of business. As Minister for Education she was instrumental in bringing about the changes to the education system we witnessed. She loves education and enjoys being with schoolchildren and their teachers and parents. No one would deny her competence in this area.

She worked with Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner, and the then Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, to fashion a plan to combat the global financial crisis. So successful was it in every way that we now have the best economy in the developed world, the envy of every other country, with its low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates, low national debt, triple A ratings from all three ratings agencies, and a burgeoning mining boom with billions of dollars in the investment pipeline, an economy over which PM Gillard still competently presides.

Since becoming PM she has expanded into the myriad areas that the nation’s leader must encompass. Initially reserved about international affairs, she now embraces them with skill and charm. She is popular among the world’s leaders when she visits international forums such as the G20 and APEC. She contributes there through major speeches, involvement in the business of these forums, and in bilateral talks with leaders. That we don’t hear much about this on our news bulletins can be laid at the feet of journalists too often more interested in asking questions about leadership, or local issues, than coming to grips with complex international matters.

She has given numerous speeches to public forums, such as the National Press Club, conferences, and a clutch of private institutions. On these occasions she shows her strong grasp of the subject matter. While it is easy to read a prepared speech, it is not so easy to answer questions from the audience, sometimes a hostile one, that often asks questions about unrelated matters. Yet she does this with aplomb. Have you seen her caught short of a plausible answer? Have you seen her flustered and out of her depth? If you believe you have, tell us all about it.

Moreover, she has shown how capable she now is in handling a rowdy and sometimes rude media scrum, among which there are always those looking for a slip-up, a gotcha, a chink in her armour, a ‘scoop’ for the 6 pm TV news. She learned to dismiss stupid questions, adversarial questions designed to embarrass or trap, and questions irrelevant to the subject. She controls the pack, and gets a schoolmarmish tag for her trouble, but they do often behave like school kids don’t they!

She stays the distance until questions are exhausted or other commitments demand her attention. Her marathon press conference about the Slater & Gordon matter was classic Julia Gillard sticking in there until every question was exhausted.

She excels in community cabinet meetings where she answers questions or passes them onto her ministers, and stays until all questions are addressed. On these occasions her charm and friendliness is displayed for all to see.

When addressing business forums she is not unwilling to speak her mind, even if her audience doesn’t appreciate what she says, as was the case when she spoke to the miners in Perth last week about the importance of their support for education to give them the geologists and engineers they need. The media reported that they didn’t like her ‘lecture’. Too bad!

Have you been as impressed as I have been at her grasp of every topic she addresses or is asked about? She is particularly adept at answering the unexpected ‘off-the-cuff’ question. The only time I have seen her somewhat nonplussed was when Laurie Oakes hurled his question in 2010 at her pre-election NPC address about her conversation with Kevin Rudd the night before his replacement.

Whatever the topic, whether education, industrial relations, the economy, health, taxation, climate change, the NBN, agriculture, business or industry, she knows what she is talking about. No matter whether she is addressing questions in Question Time or in the many other forums she addresses, it needs a commanding intellect and memory to encompass this vast array of areas.

Her competence extends to finely honed negotiating skills born of her industrial relations experience. It was she who won the day when negotiating with the Independents to form minority government.

Of course her armchair critics, usually looking through their retrospectoscopes, delight in questioning her judgement – on, for example, a community group to achieve consensus on climate change, on asylum seeker policy, her East Timor idea and her Malaysia arrangement, on carbon pricing and the changes to the initially announced arrangements, and on several other moves PM Gillard has made. Being never in the position of having to make decisions on such complex matters, and with the benefit of hindsight, her critics can always be smarter than she was, always right! So be it. She wears the brickbats; pity it wasn’t more often balanced with the occasional bouquet.

I admire her competence, her intellect and her persistence.

I have never met our Prime Minister, but have seen her hundreds of times on TV and in video clips, in QT and on TV shows. To me she seems always to be self assured, calm, in control, charming when in public gatherings and particularly with school children. Our own Patriciawa met her recently at a community forum in Perth and had this to say: “I stayed on afterwards for the special invite for drinks with the PM…All were really happy to hear how popular the PM is out here in the big wide world and promised to pass on those sentiments to her from me, with all of them having something to say themselves about how sensational she is to work with! A staffer standing with us then suggested I should tell the PM myself how I felt! Which I was able to do! I had been reluctant to intrude on her time since she was being extraordinarily generous with the scores of people lining up to get autographs or photos with her. But I couldn’t l knock back the offer of a personal introduction, could I? Imagine being hugged by the PM herself! I found myself willingly hugging her back! What’s all this nonsense about her being cold and wooden?” Indeed, what is all this nonsense!

It seems to me that some dislike her way of speaking, and some believe her too stiff in her formal addresses, perhaps a manifestation of her innate shyness. How many times have we seen journalists write about her ‘wooden’ performances? She is who she is. She is articulate, but she does not have the soaring oratory of a Bill Clinton, or a Barack Obama, or even that of Michelle Obama; she is Julia Gillard, the shy girl from Unley High. Are we so superficial in our evaluation of people that these externals count for more than the inner strengths, the inner values, and the inner determination to endow our nation with fairness through sound legislation that enshrines equality, decency, fairness, and opportunity for all? Why can’t, why won’t journalists recognize and acknowledge those admirable attributes, preferring to highlight the things they don’t like, the things that irritate them? For many, we know the answer.

I admire her personality, her friendliness, and her warmth.

What about her integrity? This is where her adversaries leap to their feet and shout ‘liar’, or ‘Ju-liar’, or ‘untrustworthy’, or ‘not to be trusted’. We’ve heard this every day for two years from the Opposition Leader, his shadow ministers or from their sycophantic admirers and supporters in the media. Some use the words ‘deceitful’, even ‘treacherous’ or ‘back-stabber’, after her ‘involvement’ in Kevin Rudd’s downfall. The ‘liar’ tag was derived from her change of tack when she was unable to achieve an emissions trading scheme without an initial price on carbon because of the insistence of the Greens. She did mean it when she said: ‘there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead’, because she wanted an emissions trading scheme instead. The problem for her was that she was unable to lead any government at all that was intent on introducing an ETS without an initial price on carbon. She had to do this, or have no ETS. She chose to have what she always wanted by agreeing to an initial price on carbon. It would have been better if she had not uttered those words, because the Opposition Leader, who morphed them into incessantly repeated slogans that have heavily damaged the PM’s credibility, opportunistically seized upon them. But there it is. The problem is that this one statement, played over and again on TV programs, has served to impugn her as a habitual liar about everything her adversaries wish to pin on her. One slip up has become her bête noire, and the Opposition Leader’s most powerful weapon against her.

Given that fact of life, what untruths can her adversaries pin on her, or are they just content to call her a liar, specific misdemeanour unstated? Until someone can point out where and when she has lied, I for one discount that label as simply an unwarranted slur. I know some of you will smirk; just give us your evidence.

I admire her personality, her friendliness, and yes her integrity, albeit maligned every day by her adversaries. I admire her grit, her fighting spirit to carry on despite all the venom that is heaped upon her. I admire her decency and her honesty.

So I give her full marks for courage, vision, her focus on getting things done, her competence, her personality and her integrity. I believe we are fortunate to have a leader of her calibre to guide our nation to what looks like a glowing and prosperous future.

If only all Australians could see her that way instead of unthinkingly swallowing the condemnatory abuse that her adversaries heap upon her day after day, and value her for what she truly is.

How do you feel?

Why I admire Prime Minister Gillard

Those of you who have no time for our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had better read this. You might get an inkling of why some of us believe she is doing a sterling job of running this country. In the mainstream media, you are fed a continual diet of bad news, bad commentary, and bad opinion about our first female PM, and some of you may have seen or heard some of the vile material that circulates in the malignant blogosphere that is inhabited by the spiteful and the malevolent. In contrast, this piece paints a warm picture of an outstanding leader.

I admire Julia Gillard for six attributes she exhibits every day. Three are outlined here; another three will be covered in the next piece.

Even those of you who would disparage her would have to grant that she has unbounded courage. Even the Leader of the Opposition conceded to his Party Room that: “She won’t lie down and die – where there’s life there’s fight”, concluding: "Our job won't be over until the next election is won."

Courage is not just pressing on in the face of the most vitriolic opposition in recent history, in the face of the most venomous mainstream media assault in years, but also in the face of the most vile insults, accusations and innuendo that circulate endlessly in subterranean blogs, too often echoed in other parts of the media, as was recently the case in the Slater & Gordon matter.

Can any of you imagine how much guts it must take to get up every morning in the wake of blistering headlines in the tabloids and the broadsheets, ugly cartoons, demeaning comments about body shape, the misogyny, the photos of angry people waving ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s Bitch’ placards, the oft-repeated words of shock jocks about ‘dumping her in a hessian bag at sea’, calling her a liar and tagging her ‘Ju-liar’, and a commentator calling for her to be ‘kicked to death’?

Can you imagine how you could continue working at your job when journalist after journalist berates you, asserts that you can’t possibly win the next election, that you will take your party to a devastating electoral wipe out; when week after week columnists speculate about how many more weeks you can last as leader, about when the inevitable challenge from Kevin Rudd will come, about when you will be tapped on the shoulder if your poll figures don’t improve by this date or that? Can you really imagine that? How many people in this country could cope with that? How many?

So whatever you think about PM Gillard, whatever you feel about Julia Gillard the person, at least give her full marks for courage, for nerve, for guts, for resilience. Few politicians, indeed few people, have these attributes. Frankly, I want the leader of our nation to have them all in spades. Name any other leader that can match her.

And now in the face of her father’s unexpected death while she was attending the APEC meeting in Vladivostok, we see her courage once more. Alcyone wrote in a comment on The Political Sword: “…scrolling through the annals of find a distinct correlation between indefatigable, inspiring, exemplary, fairness-loving, eloquent altruists and people of Welsh descent. What you love most in a dear parent you weave into your own way of being - they live on with you and are present in everything you do.” Those attributes personify our PM.

I admire PM Gillard’s enormous courage, resilience and determination – courage in the face of adversity and opposition not just from her political opponents, but also from a largely hostile mainstream media. Do you?

I can hear the Gillard-knockers laughing in derision. They do not want to acknowledge the comprehensive vision Julia Gillard has mapped out for this nation. If they can’t see it, they haven’t been watching.

Her vision is grounded in the long established Labor tenet of a fair go for everyone, opportunity for all of us to be the best that we can be.

How many times have you heard her talk of a ‘great education’ as the foundation of success in life? How many times have you heard her recount her own educational experience? How many times have you heard her attribute her success and her present position to that great education, beginning at Unley High, and fostered by her father? How many times have you heard her insist that education and skills training must be the foundation upon which our commerce, our industry and our productivity must be built? That’s vision.

You will remember her repeating over and again that no one should be left behind, that socio-economic disadvantage should not be a barrier, that disability should not hold anyone back from being the best they can be, and that we should lift up those who need a hand.

You have heard her say that there must be a social security net to catch the disadvantaged, to support the poor, to elevate the indigent, to give everyone the chance they deserve. That’s equity, that’s vision.

How often has she stressed that a strong, vibrant, productive and growing economy is essential if all of us are to prosper?

How many times does she have to say that she wants to spread the benefit of the mining boom, to even out the patchwork economy?

Do you remember her pointing out that our economic future lies in our region as we move into the Asian Century, and that the growing middle class in Asia offers countless opportunity for trade and selling our manufactured goods and services?

Have you heard her talk about the need to stem carbon pollution, reduce emissions, and contribute to the global effort to combat global warming that threatens life on our planet for future generations?

Have you heard her talk of the need to achieve consensus about the need to combat climate change? You will have heard her critics mocking her for some of her ideas to achieve this, yet we know that realizing this consensus remains a vital objective. Indeed it is lack of a consensus occasioned by the efforts of sceptics and deniers that remains a problem in this country that scarcely exists elsewhere.

Have you heard her talk of how essential it is to move our economy to a low carbon, clean energy one, built on renewable energy, to take advantage of a growing renewables industry?

If you haven’t heard these things, you haven’t been listening.

Have you heard PM Gillard stress the importance of a comprehensive, integrated health care system that provides timely and equitable access to wide-ranging health and dental and mental and aged care, and disability insurance? That’s vision.

Have you heard our PM speak of the need for infrastructure development such as the NBN, the largest infrastructure project since the Snowy Mountains Scheme, and better ports, roads and rail. If you haven’t, you’ve been asleep.

Have you heard her say that we need a regional solution to the problem of accommodating those seeking asylum? No doubt some of you have mocked her foray into an East Timor solution, the lack of success of her Malaysia arrangement after it was rejected by the High Court, and will laugh at her capitulation in accepting processing on Nauru and Manus Island, but you have to give her credit for persisting in her efforts to achieve a regional solution, one that is still extant and looks like the long term answer to this vexed problem. Regional neighbours think so, as does the UNHCR.

Have you heard her talk of the importance of regional security, the need for a strong defence capability to ensure border protection, and the need to continue in Afghanistan until the transition to the Afghan National Army is complete? Do you remember her stressing the importance of the US alliance and the value of having US forces training in our North? Do you recall the White Paper on Defence that outlines the changes that are taking place in geopolitics, the rise of China and India and the development of our northern neighbours, and our strategic response to those changes?

If that is not vision, tell me what it is.

I admire her vision, vision that she has been spelling out now for the two years she has been PM, and even before.

Don’t come back here and tell us that Julia Gillard lacks vision, or to use a favourite media word, that she has not made clear her ‘narrative’, or that we don’t know ‘what she stands for’! That’s bunkum. Leave that to the likes of Paul Kelly, Peter van Onselen and their News Limited colleagues who love the word, who use the phrase. If you believe that, re-read the paragraphs above.

PM Gillard has vision for this nation in spades, and tells us what it is almost every day. Listen.

A focus on getting things done
Amid all the tumult of managing a minority government, the parliament has passed a record number of bills – at last count over 330.

These have included major reforms such as a price on carbon leading to an emissions trading scheme, a MRRT that taxes minerals super profits and redistributes the revenue to enable major tax reforms, changes to superannuation, company tax reform, and small business capital write-offs.

There has been legislation to enable paid parental leave, reforms to health care, dental care, disability insurance and plain packaging of cigarettes.

Thousands of computers have been placed in schools, the highly successful BER gave 6,500 schools new amenities; the National School curriculum, NAPLAN and the MySchool website all combine to give better oversight of the education system, and the Gonski recommendations are now being processed to lift school performance up another notch to achieve ranking in the top five counties. Skills training in TAFE and schools has received a boost, contributing as it does to the productivity needed to make our country competitive.

The much-maligned Home Insulation Program still managed to insulate a million ceilings, with the attendant savings in energy and costs to householders. The efforts to stem the tide of boat arrivals and avoid the drownings too often associated with them, have not met with the success they deserved, but the effort put into this vexed issue has been enormous. While great effort has been made to curb problem gambling, success has been elusive. A trial may point to the best way forward. Necessary changes to the live cattle export industry have been difficult, but are now in place.

There are many other legislative moves that have been made, some mundane, but many of great importance. Those listed though give a vivid picture of the level of endeavour that has been put into creating a better future for as all. What’s more, virtually every move has been made in the face of trenchant opposition – from the Coalition, sometimes from the Greens, from business lobbies opposed to an ETS, from the minerals industry angry about the MMRT, from the pokies industry fighting pokie reform, from a host of rent-seekers, lobbyists, interest groups, all more concerned about their own interest than the national interest.

It is not as if passing over 300 pieces of legislation has been a cakewalk. It has been tough at every turn, resisted at every step, often opposed simply for the cussed sake of opposing. Yet Julia Gillard and her ministers and caucus have pressed on, fighting tooth and nail for what they considered to be in the best interests of our nation.

Her father taught her that to achieve you must work hard, and work hard she does.

PM Gillard has a focus on getting things done. How many times have you heard her say: ‘Let’s get this done’? And she does get it done, even when the resistance is strongest. She simply won’t lie down and die! I admire her for that attitude, one that all determined and successful people have.

I give her full marks for courage, vision, and her focus on getting things done. I also her admire her competence, her personality and her integrity. These three attributes will be covered in the next piece: More reasons why I admire PM Gillard.

I believe we are most fortunate to have a leader of her calibre to guide our nation to what looks like a glowing and prosperous future.

What do you think?

Where does probing stop and arrogance start?

Is there any observer of politics that objects to journalists probing the assertions, the policies, and the plans of our politicians? NO! Is there anyone who is content to have journalists inertly record what politicians say and report it unquestioningly to their audience? I suspect the answer is also a resounding NO! Yet we know the latter is what happens day after day. We are so often served up a diet of ‘he says, she says’, devoid of fact checking, devoid of challenging probing, devoid of proper analysis, devoid of reasoned opinion – sterile!

Frankly we are sick of it.

When we come across a probing interview we applaud. Who will ever forget Leigh Sales’ interview of Tony Abbott on 7.30 following BHP Billiton’s announcement of its deferment of its Olympic Dam project. If you haven’t seen it, and the transcript, look here. Why was it noteworthy? Because for the first time for months, the Leader of the Opposition was subject to probing questioning that refused to be deflected by glib or devious answers, that came back again and again to Abbott’s insistence that the deferral was due to the carbon and mineral taxes, when it was not. Abbott stumbled and bumbled his way through it, I suspect leaving determined to never again submit to such probing with such poor preparation, with such a flawed story.

How would you rate Sales’ questioning style? Probing, insistent, unwilling to be fobbed off, courageous in confronting Abbott with his looseness with the truth? Yes, all of these. Was it rude? Was it arrogant? I suspect Abbott acolytes would label it so. Judge for yourself. Here it is – video and transcript – play it from beginning to end and ask yourself was she rude or arrogant? In my view she was polite, albeit insistent. Abbott was devious in the extreme. It is a tribute to Sales that she kept her cool in the face of some of the worst obfuscation ever seen in contemporary politics.

Grahame Morris leapt to Abbott’s defence, opining that Leigh could be ‘a real cow’ in such interviews. He earned his comeuppance for that. Almost no one agreed with him.

Now contrast the Sales interview with Sabra Lane’s interview of the Prime Minister on AM on Tuesday about the Government’s response to the Gonski report and recommendations. Lane was abrupt from the beginning:

“The conservative states aren't happy with your plan. They've had an expectation that you would outline where the money's coming from, and New South Wales says you've just been plain antagonistic.” Rude? Perhaps not, but provocative.

To press her point, the next question went: “The premiers, the Liberal premiers, are most unhappy; is that what you want, a dust up with them as part of your campaign roadmap to the next election to distract from the carbon tax?” Rude? Arrogant? She repeats the ‘unhappy’ line which I suppose could be excused as simply repetition, but what about her use of ‘dust up’, which is code for ‘picking a fight’, and what about her assertion that this is “part of your campaign roadmap to the next election to distract from the carbon tax?” Is that presumptuous? In my view it is, and rude to boot.

But Sabra’s rudeness was far from finished. The preamble to her third question was that Queensland couldn’t afford it, and WA said it had a better base rate than Gonski recommended; then came: “Is this a grand plan that is unaffordable and effectively dead on arrival?” That is both unspeakably rude and appallingly arrogant. In thirteen words, Lane condescendingly dismisses the PM’s entire implementation plan for the Gonski recommendations.

The fourth question was more reasonable, focussed as it was on ‘where the money was to come from’: “In short, will you cut more, so-called middle class welfare to pay for it?”
 Julia Gillard sat her back in her box with: “Oh look I'm not going to play silly rule-in, rule-out games, and I well expected them Sabra…”, leading Lane to interrupt lamely: “…types of things your alluding to aren't they?”

Assured by the PM that the full figures would be revealed, Lane retorted: “And the full figures, given that you're hoping an agreement to this will come at COAG (Council of Australian Governments) next year, we won't see all the full figures until the budget in May?” Provocative? Yes. Rude? Possibly, judge from the tone of her voice.

Lane continues: “Still on the economy, retail sales came in much weaker than expected yesterday, and other parts of the economy are very strained. Are you confident about the strength of the economy and your promise to deliver a surplus?” Not in the least satisfied with the PM’s detailed and reassuring answer about the state of the economy, and that she would deliver a surplus, Lane pressed on, determined to assert that the economy was indeed failing and that the surplus was in doubt: “But given that commodity prices have been falling, the degree of difficulty in delivering your budget surplus now is increasing at a comparable rate.” The PM went through it all again, in detail. But was Lane satisfied?

She switched to Afghanistan with a reasonable question, and that was it.

My reaction as I listened to that interview was one of annoyance at the rudeness and arrogance of Lane, her unwillingness to accept the PM’s thoughtful and detailed answers. I thought what a pumped-up journalist she has become, so disrespectful even in the face of cool, calm and reasoned answers. She was out to get the nation’s leader, but failing miserably, showed she was the antagonistic, acerbic and arrogant person we have seen she is. If you doubt the validity of my assessment of Lane’s performance listen to the audio, note her tone of voice, and judge for yourself. She gave the PM plenty of time to answer; her questioning was the problem.

The National Press Club was the venue for the PM’s announcement of her Government’s response to the Gonski report and recommendations. There were several questions there worth reviewing.

Lyndal Curtis, an ABC interviewer on a par with Sabra Lane, living up to her unfortunate reputation, asking this long question: ”If it's going to take six years to fully put in place a system that will in 13 years put Australia into the top five schooling systems while not willing to replicate the methods of the schools that are already in the top five and given by the time COAG reports next year, you will have had the Gonski Report for more than a year, if you are really on a crusade to right a moral wrong for those children at school now, are you taking a little too long to saddle up the horse?” That is an arrogant and rude ending, which is code for ‘Why have you taken so long to process the Gonski report – I demand to know, we all demand to know.’ It’s not seeking more detail, or clarification of a point the PM has made; it is arrogantly saying to the PM: ‘You have taken too long – please explain.’

Michelle Grattan, well known for her antagonism to the PM, asked: “Ms Gillard, you have put a quite short timeframe on the discussions for this scheme and I'm just curious as to why you won't at this point say how much you want the states to bear of this, and when will you be telling the states that fairly vital amount? And secondly, would you envisage that the bulk of the new spending would be loaded to the back end of the six years, the last couple of years or so?”

This is code for ‘You ought to be giving us, the Canberra Press Gallery, the cost implications right now’, even before discussing it with the State Premiers. ‘What’s more, we want to know when you’re going to tell the Premiers. We demand to know, and know now!’

Paul Bongiorno of Ten News, asked a reasonable question with a touch of humour: “You are going to legislate an aspiration by the end of the year and then you have a six-year transition, which of course is two parliamentary terms. Judging on the comments that are coming from the Opposition today, both the Opposition Leader and Opposition spokesman, you don't have bipartisan support for this. Do you have some political strategy that would put an Abbott-proof fence around it? In a sense, aren't we really talking about the never-never here?”

Chris Johnson of the Canberra Times, led with his jaw in the final question with: “You’ve spent $16 billion on the Building the Education Revolution, which while it provided some nice new school halls it hasn’t had a huge impact on student results or raised Australia’s international standing. Now the pressure’s on for this $6 billion plus for Gonski which you want the states and territories to contribute to. Do you feel that the priorities were right, or has there been wastage here?”

He got an answer that hopefully will persuade him to ask a less provocative and arrogant question next time.

Can you believe that, given the opportunity to ask questions about the most important announcement on education for years, a chance to ask questions about the implementation of the most far-ranging report on education for decades, Kieran Gilbert from Sky News thought this was a good occasion to ask a question about boat arrivals, and Phil Coorey from the SMH, a query about Afghanistan. That such experienced journalists could be so far off-track is astonishing.

While still on the Gonski report, look at Lyndal Curtis’ interview of Peter Garratt, Education Minister, and her exhibition of gross impertinence and arrogance. You have to look at it to get an image of Curtis’ face as she presented, or should I say propelled, her verbal missiles at Garratt.

She began by cataloguing the steps in the Gonski process for thirty seconds, then wham: “What have you been doing for the last eight months?”, schoolmarmishly admonishing an errant schoolboy late with his homework. That’s how she started and it didn’t get any better. Garratt had hardly started when she interrupted: “It’s taken you all this time to decide the broad model that Gonski recommended is the right one. Why couldn’t you have begun discussions with them [State Premiers] at the time you released the Gonski report in February?” Note the way she thrusts her face towards him; her body language oozing arrogance and disdain.

She later accused him of intending to introduce only ‘aspirational’ legislation and asked provocatively: “What’s the worth of aspirational legislation?” She went on in this vein, accusing him of “trying to bind future governments”.

Although her hostility diminished towards the end, this was one of the most aggressive, arrogant and rude interviews that I’ve seen Curtis conduct, and that’s saying something!

If you think Leigh Sales interview with Tony Abbott was a once off, take a look at her interview this week with Joe Hockey. I won’t go through it sentence by sentence, but if you play the video or read the transcript, you will see the same courteous, albeit persistent approach she took with Abbott. No rudeness, no arrogance.

Look too at her interview of Barnaby Joyce on 7.30 yesterday. Same technique, persistent but courteous; certainly not arrogant.

Finally, take a look at an interview of Christopher Pyne on the PM’s Gonski announcement by Emma Alberici on Lateline on Monday. Apart from Tony Abbott, is there a more irritating, obfuscatory, motor mouth than Christopher Pyne to interview? Yet Alberici kept her cool, was consistently courteous while pressing Pyne for answers, and showed no signs of arrogance and rudeness.

The point of this piece is that it is possible to be a ‘tough’ interviewer, to ask probing questions, to be persistent, to press for an answer, even to the extent of annoying the interviewee, without being rude or arrogant. Rudeness bespeaks disrespect; arrogance insinuates that the interviewer has knowledge or understanding or intellect or insight or foresight or intuition or judgement superior to the interviewee. Arrogance looks down the nose.

No journalist has the right to treat those elected to high office with disdain, or to be rude or arrogant. Yet the examples given in this piece illustrate how some journalists believe they have this right. Culprits are exposed: Sabra Lane, Lyndal Curtis, Michelle Grattan and the occasional man, guilty of disrespectful, condescending and impolite conduct that is unbecoming and unworthy of senior professional journalists. If their peers can behave with respect, such as Leigh Sales and Emma Alberici, and still conduct the probing interviews we expect from experienced journalists, why can’t Sabra Lane, Lyndal Curtis and Michelle Grattan? You would have to ask them, but one could not be blamed for suspecting partisan bias or simply antipathy.

Probing can easily tip over to arrogance. Good journalists avoid that error.

What do you think?

Tony Abbott beware! Incitement is a very dangerous game

Again this week we heard Liberal apologist Grahame Morris, former adviser to John Howard, loose lipped, sarcastic and very nasty, commenting on ABC Radio 702 Sydney about Tony Abbott's awful performance during a Leigh Sales’ interview on 7.30 last week. "Well Leigh can be a real cow sometimes when she's doing her interviews." was his verdict. Read about it here on Adelaide Now. Host Linda Motram observed that Morris’ remark was ‘over the top’. Twitter went wild with criticism. Leigh twittered back: “I’d rather be a cow than a dinosaur”, and thousands complained there and on talkback. How did Morris respond?

Three hours later he rang Motram ostensibly to apologize to Sales, and added: "…there's no doubt at times Leigh can be tough” and: "that would have been a much better expression than being a cow at times." It certainly would have been. Like you Tony Abbott, Morris did not know where to stop. He even criticized those castigating him over his remark for being ”poor little sensitive souls”. That riposte is a pretty accurate reflection of this man’s pejorative approach and his caustic tongue when he pours scorn upon PM Gillard, Labor and its supporters, as he often does. Tony Abbott, you dismissed Morris’ remarks as a "rush of blood to the head", and added “that to Mr Morris' credit, he had since apologised". Apologize and all is forgiven, your formula for grievous errors!

Morris has form. In early May on News Limited’s Sky News as recorded by David Donovan in Independent Australia, in a rant about Julia Gillard’s decision to distance Labor from Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper, Morris exploded: “What are these bleeding heart Labor lawyers from here on in, screaming bloody hypocrites they are. They should be out there kicking her to death”. Don’t try to understand his contorted English, just re-read the last sentence. Compère David Spears, embarrassed by his angry outburst, tweeted: “I am not a spokesperson for Grahame. Just passing this on!” And later: “I’ve just spoken to Grahame Morris and he says his ‘kicking to death” comment was inappropriate and he was sorry.”

So twice in three months this nasty little man has uttered unseemly words and then had to apologize because of the public reaction. But the damage had been done. He had demeaned our PM and in doing so ran the risk of inciting, unwittingly or otherwise, the extreme right wing haters to hate her even more vehemently perhaps even to the level of violence. Don’t laugh.

An ‘Opinion’ piece in The Age on 28 August: Misogynists and nut jobs need to turn down the volume, by Andrew Stafford began: “Last Friday, I saw something that disturbed me greatly: a young man wearing what appeared to be a home-made T-shirt featuring a caricature of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. She had a bullet in her head.”

Folks, this is serious. Stafford continues: “That sort of thing, unfortunately, will be of little surprise to Gillard, who the day before had called out the ''misogynists and nut jobs'' on the Internet, where calls for her assassination, both veiled and overt, proliferate. They proliferate on talkback radio too. And it's not just the callers. Alan Jones infamously suggested - on five occasions last year - that Gillard ought to be ''put in a chaff bag'' and dumped at sea.”

Remember the shooting in the head of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat member of the US House of Representatives, near Tuscon, Arizona over a year ago. She almost died, but recovered eventually with such neurological deficits that she could no longer represent her state of Arizona. Read about it here. Of course we all know that in the US, where one in three adults own a gun, shootings are all too common, but political shootings are relatively rare. This one demonstrated though to what lengths political hatred could drive unbalanced people.

Don’t imagine that this could not happen here given the language of intense hatred that now pervades our political discourse.

Who will ever forget that infamous interview in February last year on Sydney’s radio 2GB that Alan Jones conducted with Julia Gillard, where he, a mere noisy shock jock, chastised our PM for being ten minutes late for her interview with him as if she were an errant schoolgirl, pointing out that other people (meaning himself) were busy and couldn’t afford to be waiting around for a full ten minutes for the leader of the nation to present herself. His anger with her was palpable. Suitably enraged, he proceeded to then apply the tag ‘Ju-liar’, one that has stuck ever since. If you have not heard him verbally assaulting our PM with this pejorative label, play the video on the Brisbane Times account of this encounter.

Can you imagine something as unseemly as a bullyboy shock jock castigating the Prime Minister of Australia for being ten minutes late, and then calling her a liar? Would he have ever done anything as gross as that to John Howard; would he ever do it to Tony Abbott? What has become of the media in this country when a self-important shock jock could do that and remain in his job?

But it’s more than just being insulting and rude – Jones’ behaviour exhibited a gross level of vitriol, anger and loathing, even hatred. These emotions are infectious. If Jones can loath and hate so vehemently, if Jones can express such feelings on air to thousands, and the many thousands who heard him later, does this not give permission to his sycophantic listeners to feel and act similarly? By being rude and disrespectful, by exhibiting his hatred and loathing so overtly and publically, he incites his acolytes to exhibit the same.

As if that episode was not enough. Jones organized and spoke at anti-carbon tax rallies in Canberra where ‘Ju-liar’ placards were prominent, along with those emblazoned with ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s Bitch’, in front of which Jones, and Tony Abbott, Sophie Mirabella and Bronwyn Bishop proudly stood to give them their endorsement. Their pathetic denials that they were unaware of the presence of the placards are implausible.

How could they possibly believe that such placards would not promote disdain, loathing and hatred of our PM? If they were insensitive to their effect on others, they had only to look around and listen to the language of those attending the rally.

Not satisfied that these events would have the desired humiliating effect, Jones repeatedly stated on air that Julia Gillard, with or without Bob Brown, should be put in a hessian bag and dropped out to sea. What sort of language is that from a widely listened-to broadcaster – vitriolic language that incites anger, loathing and hatred, language that evokes behaviour that could turn dangerous?

Apart from all this, almost every day Jones has derogatory things to say about PM Gillard and her Government. His disdain and detestation is unremitting.

Even this week Jones has been at it again as reported in “Broadcaster Alan Jones today accused women of "destroying the joint" as he widened his attack on Julia Gillard to take in other female public figures. Mr Jones seemed to suggest that women should not be in politics…” 
He was furious over the $230 million aid the Prime Minister had announced for South Pacific nations to promote Pacific Island women in business and politics.
 Take a look at the photo of this misogynist man, ugly with rage.

If you doubt if Jones’ language could evoke similar feelings in his listeners, look here at the responses to a recent question on Jones’ website: “Is the Gillard government deserving of a full term in office?” You will be astonished at the ferocity of the verbal abuse, the contempt, and the hatred. Here’s just one example: “…how can we have a woman like gillard running this country when she has the brain the size of a pimple in a wrinkle on a money spiders ball, you stupid woman.” There is page after page of such comments.

He has plenty of support from his 2GB mate, Ray Hadley, who lays into PM Gillard at every opportunity. Others are not spared; recently he called Wayne Swan ”a boofhead and a liar”.

3AW’s Neil Mitchell too puts the boots into PM Gillard, but at least he does similarly to Tony Abbott, something Jones and Hadley never do.

Do these men realize what they are fostering – a level of aversion to, and hatred of our PM that is at pathological levels. We saw how Goebbels fostered such hatred of the Jews in Nazi Germany that the populace ignored the Holocaust as it unfolded. Do these vicious men realize they are on the same dangerous track?

And it’s not just shock jocks that are playing this game. Earlier this month, David Farley, CEO of Australian Agriculture Company, called the Prime Minister “an unproductive old cow” in the context of discussing new techniques for animal slaughter.

Ages ago, George Brandis said that “she has chosen not to be a parent…she is very much a one-dimensional person”, and the loose-lipped Bill Heffernan called her “deliberately barren”. Sophie Mirabella and Janet Albrechtsen too seem pre-occupied with her decision not to have children. Others delight in criticizing her earlobes, her ear-rings and her dress, while Germaine Greer, feminist and great defender of women, has now twice talked disparagingly on Q&A about her dress, adding: “You’ve got a big arse, Julia, just get on with it”, and most recently: “She looks like an organ-grinder’s monkey”. Even Tony Jones was embarrassed!

News Limited’s Patrick Carlyon, who has great writings to his credit, notably on Gallipoli, heaped scorn on the PM about her gender when he likened her behaviour during Barack Obama’s visit to Australia to “a high school girl who has, finally, after much bedroom plotting, captured the gaze of the football captain”.

And more recently there were the vicious misogynist cartoons and comments flowing from the venomous pen of Larry Pickering about the Slater & Gordon matter, which have continued unremittingly, accompanied by hundreds of spiteful, malevolent comments by Pickering sycophants only too ready to jump on his ‘demean and destroy’ bandwagon.

Tony Abbott, I can hear you saying: “What’s this got to do with me?” My answer is: ‘everything’.

You stood with Alan Jones in front of those placards at the carbon rally; you never pulled him up when he coined the ‘Ju-liar’ tag and insulted the nation’s most senior politician on his 2GB program; you agreed with Germaine Greer’s comments about Julia Gillard’s dress with your own public comment: “I know, I know, I know, . . . Germaine Greer was right on that subject”.

You are only too ready to let these adverse and very personal remarks about your opponent go unopposed. You would never dream of leaping to the defence of a female opponent, not matter how gross the adverse comments were. To you they are simply grist to your adversarial mill.

As Leader of the Opposition, you ought to be man enough to stand up in vigorous opposition to the misogynist denigration of the nation’s most senior politician, no matter that she is your political adversary. But you are not man enough; you haven’t got the decency, or the guts, to make that stand. It serves your political purpose to not only decline to stand up to oppose such denigratory remarks; you actively foster them in a shameful way, a measure of your small mindedness and lack of common decency. Instead you cuddle up to Alan Jones when you want a soft interview full of Dorothy Dixers. You would never tell him his vile misogynist remarks are unacceptable, because you believe they are acceptable!

Read Anne Summers’ article in the SMH this weekend: Conspiracy of silence lets persecution of PM fester that concludes: “I think it is time to name and shame, to expose all examples of this hateful misogyny and call on decent Australians to not share it, forward it, re-tweet it or otherwise give it exposure. The Prime Minister, like the rest of us, is entitled to be able to do her job without harassment, bullying or sex discrimination.” Reflect on that.

By taking the acquiescent approach to misogyny you do, you foster the malevolent words and actions of these anti-Gillard forces, you support them and you actively join with the perpetrators to accentuate the denigration of the nation’s Prime Minister. In doing so, you are a party to a process of disparagement that could end in tragedy if some of what Julia Gillard rightly describes as ‘misogynist nutters’ take matters into their own hands, as did Gabrielle Gifford’s would-be assassin. You are in there with the misogynists, the nutters, the Alan Jones’ and the Ray Hadley’s inciting detestation, revulsion, and hatred to an extent that could result in the sort of tragedy here that we saw in the US.

You have longstanding form yourself. You call Julia Gillard a liar almost every day, based on her ‘broken promise’ over the carbon tax. You insisted she ”make an honest woman of herself” by taking the carbon tax to an election, a misogynist variant of ‘liar‘ if ever there was one. Even when you don’t use the tag ‘Ju-liar’, you repeat ad nauseam that ‘she’ is not trustworthy, which is another way of calling her a liar. In your interview last week on Channel Nine’s Today Show with Lisa Wilkinson, when she asked you about Julia Gillard and the Slater and Gordon matter, your reply was: “Whether or not she was an untrustworthy lawyer is not the issue, I think this Prime Minister is an untrustworthy head of government.” Even in parliament you call her a liar, a banned word, and when last week you were asked by the Speaker to withdraw that word without qualification, you defied her, qualified your withdrawal, and were kicked out. As Anna Burke said: “You just can’t help yourself”.

You continually tell the electorate that Julia Gillard is leading ‘a bad government getting worse’, and no matter how good the economic news, you insist how much better it would be if there was a ‘good government’ in power.

Don’t you realize that every time you refer to the PM as ‘her’, or use the word ‘she’, or talk about ‘this Prime Minister’, you are demeaning her? Every time you call her ‘untrustworthy’ you are reinforcing Alan Jones’ malicious tag: ‘Ju-liar’. Every time you call her a liar outside or inside the House, you are perpetuating that image of her. That is your intent. And the irony is that while you lampoon her for that one carbon tax ‘lie’, you yourself lie so often that we have lost count. You even admit on national TV that you lie, but that doesn’t stop you doing it day after day.

Don’t you have enough insight to know that as you poison the minds of the electorate day after day you are building up antipathy, aversion, resentment, detestation, bitterness, anger, loathing and hatred among our citizens towards our Prime Minister that could incite unbalanced people to dangerous action? If you don’t realize that is what you are doing, that is reprehensible; if you do, that is immoral.

As a welcome sign this week that you are beginning to realize the danger of verbal abuse, you said you wanted ”tougher legal powers to order "scurrilous" internet bullying attacks to be taken down”, and that ”online bullying was a more disturbing phenomenon than verbal attacks.” Maybe Tony Abbott, but do understand that the verbal attacks you, Alan Jones and other shock jocks make on our PM day after day are also disturbing, alarming and dangerous.

This has got to stop. As Opposition Leader, you are in a powerful position to put a halt to this unremitting, perilous demonization of the nation’s leader. Will you?

Tony Abbott beware: incitement is a very dangerous game.

Please act before something terrible happens.

What do you readers think?