Have you noticed how little scrutiny the MSM has given to the prospect of an Abbott Government? Why is this so? With an election soon to occur, and the possibility of a Coalition win, how is it that we have had almost no analysis of what it has to offer and what an Abbott Government would mean for this nation?
We could be excused for attributing this to the preoccupation of the media with the current Government and its recent upheaval, but it seems to go well beyond that. Anyone with eyes to see must have noticed the intent of some sections of the media, specifically News Limited and especially The Australian, to denigrate Kevin Rudd and his Government, and eventually bring them down. That has been an around-the-clock commitment for a long while. Reflect on the countless stories about the Home Insulation Programme and the BER, for which The Australian has an ongoing Schools Watch; consider the publicity given to every boat arrival, to the ETS/CPRS, the RSPT now the MRRT, practically all of it negative; think about all the derogatory articles about Kevin Rudd as PM and as a person, and any doubt you may have had about the intent of this onslaught will dissipate. The logical extension of attempting to bring down a government is that the alternative is acceptable. Presumably then, any criticism of it would be counterproductive. I believe this is why the flaws in the Abbott-led Coalition, obvious to anyone who looks, are seldom exposed by a largely sycophantic Canberra Press Gallery.
Now that the primary mission of removing Rudd has been accomplished, attention is bound to turn to his replacement. She will be afforded a modest honeymoon – it would be regarded as unseemly to immediately attack her as viciously as they attacked Rudd. Instead, they have started to niggle with stories such as the cost of running The Lodge while Julia Gillard declines to occupy it, stories seldom heard when John Howard did the same and lived at Kirribilli; a tale about her use of the PM jet to attend a fund-raiser in Brisbane; and ever-so-subtle references to her marital status and beliefs. She should watch her back once the honeymoon is deemed by the media to be ‘over’.
In the absence of any searching appraisal by the MSM of what an Abbott Government might look like and do, let’s have a go here.
First Tony Abbott
Abbott the pugilist
Long before he became Opposition leader, he showed us his pugilistic nature, an attribute that harks back to his days at Oxford when his prowess at boxing was legend. I wrote about this in The pugilistic politician in December of last year. Recognizing this, John Howard used him as his attack dog, again and again. WorkChoices was an area where he excelled. That pugilistic approach has exacerbated from the very day he defeated Malcolm Turnbull by one vote in a party leadership ballot. He has incessantly attacked virtually everything the Government has said, done, or attempted to do. He has been consistently negative and obstructive. This seems to be partly born of his extreme conservatism, but more significantly of his antagonistic nature.
As an extension of his aggression, he tries to portray himself as ‘Action Man’ with his sporting achievements that he hopes will translate into ‘Political Action Man’ – the man who gets things done!
How can someone so fundamentally aggressive assume the mantle of Prime Minister where conciliation is so essential, where listening is so critical, where a calm approach is crucial? Can Abbott transform himself into that sort of person?
Abbott the extreme conservative
His position on the political spectrum seems more radical, more extreme than was John Howard’s. On the IR front he is strongly anti-union, anti-worker and pro-business, when a balanced approach is needed. Although he says WorkChoices is dead, it is more accurate to say only the term is dead, as he is intent on restoring individual worker-employer contracts and restoring unfair dismissal laws. He says the Howard Government went too far, but everything he says points to him dragging back many elements of WorkChoices, which in his inner heart he believes was not all that bad and was unfairly maligned.
His extreme conservatism was exposed in the global warming debate with his now infamous ‘absolute crap’ utterance, and his blocking of the ETS.
His conservatism has been exposed again recently with the RSPT (now MRRT) initiative which he vowed, and still vows to oppose and rescind in Government. By so doing he is refusing to embrace tax reform, is happy to let the miners pay an inappropriately small tax on the nation’s non-renewable minerals, miners he stated already pay too much! In so doing he is rejecting over $10 billion in revenue over the forward estimates that is targeted towards social benefits – better superannuation; benefits to business – lower company tax; and infrastructure improvements that benefit all. Can you imagine more extreme conservatism than that?
How can a man who is so extremely conservative that he rejects such large additions to revenue, additions the miners are ready to pay, additions that will bring about such benefits, properly govern this country?
Abbott the untruthful
Perhaps the most damning words to come from Abbott’s mouth were spoken in an interview with Kerry O’Brien where he conceded that words he uttered might not necessarily be his real position, only what he committed to writing was. This will come back to haunt him during the election campaign. There are many instances of this, the most recent being his declaration in a party room meeting that ‘...the Coalition was within reach of a famous victory’, faithfully reported to the media by always-pedantic George Brandis, subsequently denied by Abbott, but finally admitted to on another O’Brien interview.
Of course the media seems to think that Tony is entitled to have thought bubbles and to change his mind if they unexpectedly burst in his face. He doesn’t do back-flips, only Kevin Rudd and his ministers did that, and were pilloried every time the media deemed they had.
Despite these conceptual contortions, his advocates, many of whom live in the Canberra Press Gallery where he’s considered a ‘good guy’, insist he is ‘the real deal’, that he’s ‘authentic’ Tony, ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ Tony. That is nonsense. What you see is not what you get. What you get is a man who is shameless about lying when it suits him.
When can you believe this man? If it’s only when it’s in writing, how can he expect the people to entrust to him the leadership of the country?
Abbott the economics ignoramus
When did you last hear a rational statement about economics come from Abbott’s mouth. He has a longstanding reputation for being ‘bored’ by economics. Peter Costello has stated that he would never let Abbott get near an economics portfolio. Yet he is putting himself forward to run a trillion dollar economy. I suppose he expects he will delegate that to his finance team, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb, but that is not good enough. For all the faults that were laid on him, Kevin Rudd clearly had a deep understanding of economics. Yet even this weekend Abbott exposes his incompetence by saying he can’t understand how in reducing the MRRT tax rate by 25% the loss to revenue is only about 10%, while overlooking the savings that result from deleting other aspects of the scheme where the Government was to subsidize exploration, and ignoring very recent estimates of windfall minerals prices. He is either being disingenuous and opportunistic in casting doubts in people’s minds, or he just doesn’t understand – possibly both.
How can someone so ignorant and apparently disinterested in economics put himself up as a potential PM?
Abbott the social enigma
On the one hand Abbott opposed the introduction of abortion drug RU486; feels ‘threatened’ by homosexuals, but has lots of friends who are; but on the other is promoting a generous PPL scheme after saying such a scheme would come in over the then ‘government’s dead body’, and wants a ‘stay-at-home-mothers’ scheme, one his shadow cabinet has so far rejected as fiscally irresponsible.
Abbott’s period in a seminary studying for the priesthood has left a lasting impression on him, both good and not-so-good. He behaves as if asking forgiveness is the remedy to making mistakes, rather than getting it right first time. He consults with Cardinal Pell. There is nothing wrong with this, although sometimes he is reluctant to admit that he has consulted his mentor. Despite his Christian upbringing he takes a hard-nosed approach to asylum seekers, infamously threatening to turn around boats laden with those escaping persecution, hardly a ‘Good Samaritan’ approach.
Who can predict where he will stand on any social issue? How can this man expect the people of Australia to endorse him when he has not set out his social ‘narrative’? Rudd was harassed incessantly for his narrative – let’s see what Tony Abbott stands for, let’s hear where he stands on the wide range of social issues this nation faces.
Abbott the dog-whistler (added after a comment by Mobius Ecko)
Like John Howard, Tony Abbott has discovered the political value of dog-whistling. Howard did it with the Tampa; Abbott is doing it right now with the updating this last weekend of his asylum seeker boat arrival count, displayed on the converted ‘$315 billion debt’ truck Malcolm Turnbull launched so proudly a year ago. Like Pauline Hanson, he knows there are votes in a hard-nosed approach to refugees arriving by boat. He knows he can, and indeed has heightened fears among some of the population about ‘the influx of boats’ under Labor, and is promising a return of TPVs and other Howard measures. He insists Howard stopped the boats and so will he, despite the fact that the refugee situation is quite different now with push factors being so much more powerful. The potency of this latest piece of dog-whistling is evidenced by Julia Gillard’s keenness to address the asylum seeker issue, which it is reported is a negative factor in some Labor electorates. It will be interesting to see whether Abbott’s loud dog-whistling will push Labor to take a harder line, and match Abbott’s pledge to ‘save’ Australia from this ‘threat’.
Abbott the policy vacuum man
Think for a moment what policy announcements Abbott has made. There have been a few; we are told we must wait patiently until election time for the others.
A recent one was the mental health initiative. Seeing an opportunity to wedge the Government, and picking up on discontent in the mental health field, he announced an increase in the number of ‘Head Start’ clinics for youth mental health at a cost of $1.5 billion, but will fund this important initiative by stopping the building of GP super clinics, the idea of which is to provide round-the-clock comprehensive primary care to take the load from hospital emergency departments, which have been chronically overloaded for as long as anyone can remember. He’s robbing Peter to pay Paul because he thinks that will garner more votes. He says he will further fund this initiative by carving out chunks of ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’, which would be in sharp contrast to the way it burgeoned under Howard. Is this believable? Is this fiscally responsible policy?
This weekend he stated that type 1 diabetes sufferers would be better off under a Coalition government as he will fund a $35 million clinical trials research network. Sounds like another thought bubble – wait for the details, and how he will fund it.
His so-called health reform consists of creating local boards in Queensland and NSW to replace regional networks, a scheme that sounds similar to the Government’s plan, but of course would be so much lighter on bureaucracy. There are no more details, no indication of how he will get the states to play ball, no mention of primary care – wait for it. For a man who reduced health funding by $1 billion when Health Minister, who reduced funds for training doctors and nurses so now they are in very short supply, can you believe anything he says about ‘fixing’ the health and hospitals system?
He floated the idea of a lavish PPL, arguably to trump the Government’s more modest but fiscally responsible scheme that had been worked out after long consultation with stake holders. His was an opportunistic thought bubble launched without party consultation, with funding coming from a new tax – sorry, temporary levy – on the very sector, big business, he says he’s looking after, and after his ‘no new taxes’ pronouncement.
Another thought bubble was the stay-at-home-mothers’ plan, killed off quickly because it couldn’t be funded.
Then there is the Direct Action Plan for carbon mitigation, a feeble attempt to con people into thinking it would achieve what it said it would. It’s not without merit, but it’s really a cop-out for a proper plan and having to take hard decisions that affect businesses and householders alike – but after all, global warming is ‘crap’.
Remember the Budget reply speech and the $47 billion ‘savings’ that would fund Coalition initiatives. Abbott gave us no detail – that was shadow treasurer Joe Hockey’s job, but, anxious to display his economics credentials, Hockey read a ‘learned’ paper to the National Press Club and waited until the end to hand out the list, which in turn was left to Andrew Robb to explain. That all three included as ‘savings’ the funds that the Government planned to use for infrastructure, reducing company tax and facilitating superannuation funding from 9 to 12% ONLY if and when the RSPT was passed, a measure the Opposition vowed to stop in its tracks, shows their level of illiteracy in economics or simple accounting, or their willingness to deliberately attempt to deceive the public.
Recently Abbott declared the Coalition was ready to govern, and to prove it he presented a 12 point plan. It’s not worth the space to reproduce here his platitudes – if you want to read them, Andrew Bolt has them listed in Abbott’s 12 points a bit blunt; even he didn’t think much of them.
Can anyone recall policies on tax reform, social services and transfer payments reform, reform of indigenous affairs? Has he ever said what he would do with the rest of the Henry Tax reforms? Has he a population policy apart from criticizing every move the Government is making to address the population issue? In fact can anyone recall hearing any coherent statement of his vision for this nation, his narrative for achieving that vision, his determination to tackle the hard reforms that are needed for continuing prosperity?
Yet this man has the hide to present himself to us as potentially the next PM. But what has the media to say about this, about him, about his policies or lack of them. Almost nothing, after all, Tony’s a ‘good bloke’. That’s all that’s needed to escape scrutiny.
What of the rest of the team?
What has she done that warrants her position? She has retained Deputy Leadership across three leaders, mainly because she is a Western Australian. As shadow treasurer she was incompetent and was replaced. Then as shadow foreign minister she said all the wrong things over the Stern Hu affair and messed with our national security over the Israeli faked passports episode. With that record, how could we entrust her to conduct delicate diplomatic discussions? As chair of a Coalition policy group she seemed to have achieved nothing that can be seen, so it was handed on.
She is a very weak performer. What could she usefully do in government?
As leader of The Nationals, Warren is a nice guy, the antithesis of Abbott’s aggressive approach, but is overshadowed by Barnaby Joyce to the point of being ineffectual.
I’ve mentioned his fabricated ‘Budget savings’ already. It’s been estimated that the Coalition’s real savings are less than a quarter of that claimed, because of the non-existent savings in the MRRT and the fictitious savings by scrapping the NBN. As Lindsay Tanner put it: “Either Mr Abbott and his colleagues have reached a new level of deceit or . . . the Liberal Party's economic team is even more inept than previously thought."
During the GFC he castigated the Government for ‘reckless spending’ in denial that a recession was coming or had been averted. He attributed Australia’s avoidance of recession to everything except the Government’s stimulus. This was ridiculous, literally. He showed no sign of competence regarding financial matters and global economics.
And yet he says repeatedly he wants Wayne Swan’s job!
Andrew is to be admired for coming out over his depression and for the way he is coping with it. But his credentials as shadow finance minister are suspect; he has shared in making the ludicrous statements about the nation’s finances with Abbott and Hockey. And just this weekend he labelled the Government’s MRRT ‘all smoke and mirrors’, a meaningless mantra that would not escape the lips of one competent in economics and finance.
The Coalition economics/finance team is a motley crew. How could they be entrusted to run a trillion dollar economy in troubled economic times?
As education spokesman he has done nothing but carp about ‘waste and mismanagement’ in the BER. Nothing positive about education has escaped his lips. And as Opposition Manager of Business he has been a serial pest with multiple, spurious time-wasting points of order during parliamentary debates. He is largely a mouth with no sign of his brain being in gear.
This man is almost totally ineffective as shadow health minister and no match for Nicola Roxon. He may not return after the election.
Scott shows some promise but is burdened with Abbott’s intention to return to the ‘successful’ Howard asylum seeker policies that kept the boats from coming – through ineffective TPVs and the inhumane Pacific Solution.
Ian has had experience and did a commendable job negotiating a revised ETS with Penny Wong; he is one of the better prospects.
Then there are the lesser lights who raise countless points of order in QT such as Bronwyn Bishop, Wilson Tuckey and Kevin Andrews, those who ask occasional questions such as Greg Hunt, Susan Ley, Sophie Mirabella and Steve Ciobo, and those who make up the numbers like Philip Ruddock and Sharman Stone.
Yet sitting on the back bench is Malcolm Turnbull, arguably the most intelligent and talented of all, hoping to return to the front bench, and if Abbott loses comprehensively, maybe to leadership.
In the Senate probably the most gifted Coalition member is Deputy Opposition Leader George Brandis, but surrounded by Eric Abetz of Grech affair fame, Barnaby Joyce who seems more suited to vaudeville with his smart but meaningless quips, Cory ‘Ban the Burqa’ Bernardi, arch-conservatives Mathias Cormann and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and old-timers such as Bill Heffernan and Helen Coonan, there isn’t much talent around to support him.
What has the Coalition to offer the people of Australia?
Looking critically at the leader, his paper thin front bench, his aging back bench and his limited Senate team, there seems to be little that the Coalition has to offer this nation. Indeed it is outrageous that it has the temerity to offer such a paltry team to the Australian electorate to replace a competent Government that despite some failings has achieved so much and needs more time to complete its reforms.
Even more outrageous is the fact that the MSM has made so little effort to appraise the Coalition, has made almost no critique of its plans, and has allowed Tony Abbott and his key ministers to get away with hyperbole, spin, factual errors and disingenuous behaviour almost without correction. It has been left to the Fifth Estate and specialist outlets such as Crikey to set the record straight.
Is the MSM waiting for the election campaign to do that work, or will its desire for a fierce contest and a close result inhibit it doing its proper job – soberly informing the electorate of the stark choice it has at the 2010 Federal Election?
What do you think?