Has there ever been a more destructive politician in Australian political history than Tony Abbott, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? His ‘give me what I want or I’ll wreck the place’ approach has been documented from the day he missed out on becoming PM after the Independents decided to go with Julia Gillard. This behaviour was predicted. His past behaviour, as described in The pugilistic politician
written ten days after he was elected leader, foretold the aggression and destructiveness that we have seen ever since.
He has opposed virtually everything the Government has proposed, even when opposing seemed to be to his disadvantage. For example, by blocking the proposed changes to the law governing asylum seeker processing that would have made good the defect uncovered by the High Court, amendments that would have given any government, including one Abbott might lead, the right to choose its preferred country for offshore processing, which is Coalition policy, he refused to cooperate. It had to be his way or no way at all. Like the pugilist he is, winning the battle with the PM now, or at least not losing it, was all that mattered. Whether the loss would cripple him later seemed to be of no consequence.
Julia Gillard was not asking him to adopt the Malaysia arrangement, only to give any
government, present and future, the right to choose its preferred option. But his obsession with obstructing left him no alternative but to block, thus cutting off the Coalition’s nose to spite its face. Perhaps he believed Nauru, the option he wanted PM Gillard to adopt, would meet the High Court’s rulings, but this was something he could test only after his election and his resumption of the ‘Pacific Solution’. I suppose he saw that as a long way off, something he could deal with at the time, an approach consistent with his short-term agenda of obstruction at every turn, and let the future take care of itself.
In an article highly critical of the Government’s asylum policy in the October 15-16 edition of The Weekend Australian
titled Asylum policy a failure on all fronts
, Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan still found space to say this about Abbott: “In frustrating the government’s attempt to legislate to overcome the High Court’s ruling that the Malaysia Solution was illegal, Tony Abbott has disabled not just the government but the nation.”
Sheridan’s contention is that "losing control of boat arrivals puts us on the road to European-style dysfunction”
and threatens our sovereignty. Sheridan went on to say: “It is the single most irresponsible and destructive thing Abbott has done in his political career. It reeks of hypocrisy. For the opposition to be arguing that a country has to be a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention before boatpeople could be sent there is hypocritical on every level. Nauru was not a signatory when the Howard government sent people there…”
Despite the PM having been advised by experienced officials that Nauru would be ineffective as a deterrent to people smugglers, which after all is the whole point of offshore processing, Abbott was unprepared to listen, preferring to accept as gospel his mantra: ‘It worked before, so it will work again’, although the circumstances are quite different now from when Nauru was last used.
Challenged to confirm that the Coalition would continue its ‘turn back the boats’ policy despite the life-threatening hazards to the boatpeople and Navy personnel, and Indonesia’s insistence that they don’t want the boats back, Abbott confirmed that the policy is extant and will not be changed regardless of advice from the Navy that this practice is dangerous.
Stubborn opposition for its own sake, despite the damage it might do to his own policies, and persistence with policies that are unworkable and outdated constitutes one level of obstruction, but now Abbott’s obstruction has progressed to a deeper and more sinister level, one that is best described as the King Canute approach, one where he believes he can beat back the tide of events, the tide of history, simply by saying he will.
Readers will remember the story of King Canute, which may be apocryphal, but it serves to make the point of this piece. King Canute of Denmark, sometimes know as 'Cnut the Great', set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. (Wikipedia)
This is what Abbott is doing politically. He thinks he can command the tide. He believes he can beat back the tide of any event, any proposal which he derides. Let’s look at some examples.
Most brazen is his threat to repeal the Clean Energy Future legislation. Designed to reduce carbon pollution by Australian industry and thereby contribute to slowing the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the global temperature rises they are inducing, and in the long run saving the planet and its occupants from the dire consequences of global warming, Abbott has sworn a blood oath that he will repeal any legislation this Government has passed to this end. To hell with the planet seems to be Abbott’s attitude, perhaps reflecting his previously stated belief that ‘climate change is crap’, one he has now opportunistically modified for public consumption.
Not only is he vowing to repeal the legislation, but also all the associated mechanisms for its implementation. He has warned business not to acquire carbon credits, which are said to be legally enforceable property rights, threatening that a future Coalition Government might not compensate firms for their carbon credit outlays. This might be a moot legal point, but Abbott cares nothing about the legalities; what he is attempting to do is once again create fear, uncertainty and doubt, so as to intimidate businessmen to hold back. It is almost certainly nothing but bluff, but Abbott is a past master at bluff and intimidation. No doubt he fears that left to their own devices, businesses will buy credits on the futures market where prices would likely be more favourable, and leave him with a massive compensation bill.
It gets worse. While Abbott was hammering nails in the NT, Andrew Robb was out warning business not to seek funding from the soon-to-be-staffed $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation
. Joe Hockey echoed his message
, warning investors in renewable energy not to count on money from the corporation, which he vowed the Coalition would abolish.
So King Canute Abbott and his henchmen are already out there telling everyone that they can halt the carbon tax tide. That is as futile as King Canute’s command to the tide to halt so that his feet and robes would not get wet. They know they can’t, but they are trying on the intimidation anyway.
Business is disconcerted and unsettled by this threat. In the 19 October issue of Climate Spectator
, Giles Parkinson, in an article Pricing in Abbott's carbon extremism
, says: “With each day that passes, the conservative Coalition in Australia more and more resembles the Tea Party reactionaries in the US, promoting policies that defy the science, are economically illiterate, are based on a distant technological past, and might as well have been orchestrated by Alan Jones, the NSW radio shock jock and Coalition puppeteer – or Rush Limbaugh, his US equivalent. Scarily though, the prospect that this strategy might actually succeed threatens to add billions of dollars to the cost of energy in the country, and to the cost of carbon abatement. Sovereign risk has never been a greater threat. “The Coalition climate change policy, as it stands, makes as much sense as someone who declares that the world is flat but they intend to sail around the globe anyway. The difficulty for corporates and their strategic planners, is that they have to somehow make sense of all this and price this incoherence into their business models.”
In his Crikey
piece, The Coalition game of deterring renewables investment
Bernard Keane says: “The two significant problems for the strategy are the issue of compensation for carbon permits and one of the direct action components of the package, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The latter is problematic because, even if Abbott’s warnings about repeal deter private investment in renewables, there’ll still be billions available via the corporation…”
Read what Angela MacDonald Smith and Perry Williams had to say in The Australian Financial Review
on 18 October in Abbott’s stand sparks power price anger
and you will see the uncertainty and fury that Abbott’s stand has created – it is destructiveness writ large.
On October 20, writing in The Age
, in an article Carbon tax praised by investors
, David Wroe and Katherine Murphy had this to say: “The world's four major green investment groups representing $20 trillion in funds have hailed Australia's carbon tax as a boon for investors, strongly backing the government's claim that the scheme will deliver economic benefits. The report, commissioned by groups representing 285 pension funds and other institutional investors around the globe, found that Labor's carbon price and financial assistance for green technology ''should provide investors with real confidence'' in investing in renewable energy in Australia. “It backs recent accusations by some in the energy industry that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's vows to repeal the carbon tax and the uncertainty this was creating could damage investment. Mr Abbott has faced questions about whether his decision to axe the scheme - including the permits electricity generators say they need for ''hedging'' - will expose a future Coalition government to compensation claims and trigger a jump in power prices. Yesterday he said: ''We are very confident that we can remove the carbon tax without becoming liable for compensation.''
King Canute Abbott continues to believe he can hold back the tide.
On the personal domestic front, Abbott’s bland assurance that if there is no tax there is no need for compensation belies the extreme political difficulty of clawing back tax benefits and pension increases already in people’s pockets. It’s another Canute strategy that he knows won’t work, but he persists.
His insistence that a win for him at the next election would give him a mandate to repeal all aspects of the carbon legislation, and that Labor and the Greens would be morally obliged to support him in the repealing, is another of his flights of fancy. Does he really believe that this Government and its supporters in the parliament, having gone through the tortured process of getting the legislation passed because they believe the future of the planet depends on it, would turn around and throw it out? Such a notion reflects his disordered Canute-like thinking.
But that’s not all. Abbott has threatened also to repeal the MRRT, the minerals tax, one that the three largest miners have already agreed to, thereby foregoing around $10 billion over the forward estimates that is to be applied to the reduction of company tax, enhanced superannuation from 9% to 12% of salary, and simplified taxation for millions of citizens. Why would a potential PM and government deliberately pass up such revenue, entirely on the spurious grounds that such a tax would jeopardize the minerals industry and the jobs that it provides, a proposition made ludicrous by recent massive investments in mining.
Despite his knowing that he would have to make savage cuts to government expenditure, amounting to around $70 billion, to compensate and do all the other things he has promised, he presses on, living in his King Canute fantasy world.
This Canute behaviour is a stark example of Abbott’s obsession with winning at all costs, his political extremism, and his destructiveness, even if it destroys him in the process. His blood oath, his fight to the death approach, is dangerously bordering on the pathological.
If you are not yet convinced that Abbott is a latter day Canute, reflect on the NBN. Remember how he commissioned Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish’ the NBN, yes demolish it, destroy it – a mark of Abbott’s inherent destructiveness. He wanted Turnbull to beat back the tide of this telecommunications revolution.
Turnbull started with his ‘colossal white elephant’ and ‘gross waste of taxpayer’s money’ mantras, demanding a cost-benefit analysis before proceeding. As the Government pressed on, he reverted to techno-talk, insisting that he could deliver all the services Australians need at a fraction of the cost. Next we had his fibre-to-the-node proposal as an alternative to the NBN’s fibre-to-the-premises, and then he resorted to techno-babble that was quickly discounted by the experts.
He has now retreated from Abbott’s original idea of demolishment, assuring us that no cable will be dug up, but Abbott’s intent is still to halt the partly finished infrastructure despite the fact that this would mean very costly recompense to Telstra and for broken contracts, would give us a mongrel mess, and would deny access to those not yet connected to this brilliant new technology and all the benefits it will bring. Abbott seems stuck in ‘what we already have is OK for my emails and for my daughters to download movies’ mode, and appears unable or unwilling to contemplate the massive benefits to health, education, business and agriculture the NBN will bring, and the enormous cost savings it will enable, which in health alone would pay for the scheme according to telecommunications economists.
The extent of the disappointment that would result from Abbott halting the NBN, beating back the telecommunications tide, can be judged from the reaction to the PM’s recent visit to Wollongong, as recorded in Illawarra Mercury
in an editorial PM delivers on promises to Illawarra
. “Ms Gillard’s attendance at Regional Development Australia’s Transforming Illawarra conference marked a good day for her. More importantly, it was a good day for Wollongong. The excitement at the conference over the NBN was palpable. The opportunities that could arise from our connection to the technology permeated through various sessions and was all the talk in between. RDA Illawarra could not be more chuffed. “NBN is far more than just faster internet, a point made by former Tasmanian premier David Bartlett, who now works for ‘digital futures’ enterprise Explor. He says the NBN will offer communities, businesses and individuals new opportunities to create wealth, to communicate and to find solutions to old problems. The Federal Opposition would like to pull the plug on the NBN, which reflects the view of many people who say it is too expensive for what it will achieve. However, we believe the generations ahead will look back and see the roll-out as an example of enlightened thinking. And, in the Illawarra, we are finally seeing in some tangible ways how our ‘old economy’’ can be transformed to the benefit of everyone.”
Abbott’s persistence with his intent to halt the NBN is yet another example of where his egotistical Canute-like behaviour is taking him, and should he succeed, the prosperity of this nation with him. He is dangerous.
These examples suffice to illustrate how Abbott has become Australia’s King Canute. Does he really believe that he possesses the powers Canute declared he possessed? It certainly seems like it, but maybe it is just more Abbott bully-boy bluff.
The story of King Canute has more to it: “Continuing to rise as usual, the tide dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.’ He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again ‘to the honour of God the almighty King’. (Wikipedia). The House of Commons Information Office records that Canute set up a Royal palace during his reign on Thorney Island (later to become known as Westminster) as the area was sufficiently far away from the busy settlement to the east known as London. It is believed that, on this site, Canute tried to command the tide of the river to prove to his courtiers that they were fools to think that he could command the waves.”
There is a salutary lesson here for the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, but is the zealot Abbott open to Canute's insight? Or will he and his courtiers continue to be foolish enough to believe that they really can command the waves and turn back the tide?
What do you think?