Plan A has been around since Tony Abbott became Leader of the Opposition – to seize government by any means. Trying to seize government in itself is unsurprising. Trying to achieve that by any means brings into play what Abbott’s ‘means’ comprise. I have said from the beginning of his leadership, starting with The pugilistic politician
, written ten days after his ascension and referred to ad nauseam
, Abbott’s means are the same as they have always been – smash your opponents quickly, beat them into submission, flatten them to the canvas in the first round, as he often did when he earned his two Blues in boxing at Oxford when on his Rhodes Scholarship.
Cartoon by David Pope, editorial cartoonist for the Canberra Times. © Education Services Australia Limited and the National Museum of Australia 2009.
Abbott describes one of the bouts: “The Blues boxing match was locked 4-4 with the heavyweight to decide it. The Oxford Town Hall was absolutely packed to the rafters with very excited people who, I'm afraid, had been in many cases drinking rather heavily for quite some time. So I got into the ring, determined to hit my opponent harder and more often than he could possibly hit me. I went out like a whirling dervish, kept hitting him again and again and again with just a left, right, succession. And then I got him this magnificent left upper cut and he seemed to go up in the air, across the ring and almost through the ropes. As I said, I could hardly believe it then and I can still hardly believe it. But it certainly made for a spectacular end to the Blue's boxing match that year.”
That reflects Abbott’s Plan A.
From the outset, Abbott has gone out, arms thrashing, with five objectives:
- Get a jump on your opponent.
- Go in full bore, like a ‘whirling dervish’.
- Hit your opponent hard, harder and more often than your opponent can hit you.
- Flatten your opponent quickly.
- Destroy your opponent beyond recovery.
If any of you, particularly Coalition supporters, believe this description of the Abbott strategy is fanciful, just look at the facts.
From day one Abbott has been on the attack against the Government and its leader, first Kevin Rudd, then Julia Gillard. He attempted time and again to get the jump on them. He failed.
His strategy has been to use any tactic, no matter how disingenuous, no matter how deceptive, no matter how dishonest, to achieve his aims. He has been a ‘whirling dervish’, arms wildly flailing, hoping to land a lethal blow.
He has hit hard with every opportunity: at mines, factories, fish markets, shopping centres, rubbish dumps, clubs and community meetings, and in the parliament. His messages are consistent: the carbon tax is toxic and will force the price of everything up, and up and up, and will kill off whole industries; now it’s a ‘python’ that will steadily squeeze us to death rather than kill us with a quick and deadly ‘cobra strike’. He insists that the minerals tax will kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs and that the NBN is a massive white elephant. He is adamant that the Government can’t manage money, is addicted to spending and debt, is borrowing $100 million a day, which is putting upwards pressure on interest rates, and that it will never bring in a surplus budget. He scoffs that it cannot stop the boats, but opposes the actions the Government proposes. He declares that Julia Gillard is a liar and cannot be trusted; he continues to poison voters’ minds against her. And so on it goes – you have heard it all so many times. To injure the Government, his scaremongering continues unabated; he talks down the economy and spreads fear, uncertainty and doubt wherever he goes, without concern for the damage to business and consumer confidence he is inflicting.
His intent is to flatten Julia Gillard, to quickly drive her from power, and to use every device to do so. He has overseen the moving of almost sixty motions to suspend standing orders in the House so he can censure, demean, diminish the PM and her Government. He metaphorically swings his arms viciously and at times hatefully to throw her off balance, to put her to the canvas. So far he has failed.
He is on a mission to destroy our PM, her Government and all it is trying to do. When he defeated Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership, he ‘rewarded’ him with the position of Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband and instructed him “to demolish the National Broadband Network”
. ‘Demolish’ was the word Abbott actually used, and he meant it. He wanted the NBN destroyed beyond repair. He has promised to leave a long trail of destruction in his wake if he is elected: repeal of the carbon tax and of course any Emissions Trading Scheme that would follow, repeal of the minerals tax, repeal of the benefits to families, workers and businesses that flow from these, repeal of the private health insurance rebate, and halting the NBN. All of them are destructive – there’s nothing constructive there at all. So far he has failed.
So Tony Abbott’s pugilism, born of his belligerent, aggressive nature, and his success as a ‘whirling dervish’ boxer, is an appropriate metaphor for his nature, style, and political behaviour. And ‘dervish’ aligns well with his “Mad Monk’ tag, except that ‘dervish’ usually refers to a Muslim monk!
No doubt Coalition supporters would approve of Abbott’s pugilism, as would some journalists, on the grounds that this is what opposition leaders do, in fact ought to do. The sheer brutality of Abbott’s approach seems not to disturb them, indeed many even applaud it and laud him as one of the most effective opposition leaders this nation has had. It seems that their prime criterion for effectiveness is success in the opinion polls, particularly a strong TPP position for the Opposition. What other criteria have they entertained? Surely not success in blocking legislation, surely not in winning motions to suspend standing orders, surely not rattling Julia Gillard, surely not dismissals from her ministry or the back bench for misdemeanors, surely not getting rid of Craig Thomson, surely not winning over the Independents, surely not precipitating a premature election, surely not rising high in the popularity stakes; in all of these he has been an abject failure. So it’s polls of voting intention that once more get top billing as a measure of success. Yet we all know that as a predictor of voting intention in 2013, contemporary polls are not just useless, but dangerously misleading. That does not deter commentators from using these unreliable data, because it’s all they’ve got to build their stories. We are being conned, but how many realize it?
Returning to Abbott’s Plan A, how far has he got? The first rounds are already over and the more tiring ones are ahead.
So far he has scarcely laid a glove on Julia Gillard, and has hardly got a jump on her. Some would dispute that by pointing out that he has got the ‘liar’ label to stick, the ‘broken promise’ accusation to bite, the ‘untrustworthy’ tag to hang around her neck, and that she is very unpopular in the polls. But could he have done that without the complicity of the media and particularly the rabble-rousing shock jocks who support him, without a media unprepared to challenge his multiple lies, scared to ask the hard questions, too timid to insist that he answer questions instead of walking away, too gutless to insist on properly costed policies from him. With an obsequious media, he has been able to get away with murder, and he refuses to engage regularly with the more confronting media such as the ABC's Q&A
. So let’s acknowledge that he has achieved some success in typecasting Julia Gillard, but only with the aid of a complicit media, and by avoiding confrontation.
He has certainly gone full bore like a whirling dervish, but what has he achieved? How many times has he ‘hit’ Julia Gillard, and how hard? Has he hit her harder than she has hit back? Watch Question Time for the answer. Check who is ahead on points.
Has he ‘flattened’ her, put her on the canvas? When? Where? How?
More importantly, what has he destroyed? Not much.
He probably feels he has destroyed her Malaysian arrangements for asylum seekers, and at least he has thwarted them, as he has perversely thwarted his own plan for offshore processing. No one can move towards that because of his intransigence. It looks like a Pyrrhic victory. He knows that unless he can command both houses of parliament, his Nauru option too is doomed.
What about his program of post-election destruction? Should he win the 2013 election, would he really be able to repeal the carbon tax? Many have written about the enormous difficulties he faces in getting such a repeal through the Senate, and the complexities, hazards and uncertainty of a double dissolution to overcome an intransigent Senate. Yet he boasted again just this week that the first thing he would do on assuming government would be to repeal the tax. He talks about this blithely, almost flippantly, and no doubt many voters will believe his hairy-chested rhetoric. But the devil will be in the doing. More failure awaits him.
How will he repeal the mining tax? That presents similar difficulties. How will he repeal the benefits these taxes are bringing to pensioners, families, workers, taxpayers, low-income earners and small businesses? How will he counter the backlash that will inevitably come from those who see benefits already in their hands taken away? Has he a contingency plan for this eventuality?
How will he dismantle the NBN? It will be so far advanced and so many contracts already made that the legalities will be overwhelming. And what about the backlash from those who see their opportunities for super fast broadband jeopardized because they are still waiting for the NBN to arrive in their locality? What about the howls of protest from businessmen, farmers, educators and doctors when they see the dazzling technology that would transform their lives denied them? Has Abbott thought this through? Has he an emergency plan for dealing with their anger and frustration?
There’s another problem for Abbott. Even if he could repeal the carbon and mining taxes, how would he make up for the billions of dollars of lost revenue? How will he keep his promise to bring in successive surplus budgets in his first term when he has foregone so much revenue and made so many expensive promises: his PPL, his company tax reductions, his personal tax deductions? It will take more than the shonky accounting we have seen from the Coalition to date. What is so cynical about Abbott’s approach is that he knows full well that he would not be able to make budgetary ends meet without drastic and painful cuts to services, the impact of which would be apparent only if he were elected to power, when the voters who had been conned by his promises into voting for him discovered to their horror that they had been sold a pup.
Abbott does not care at all about these possibilities; seizing power is all he is about. No doubt he reasons he will con his way out of the difficulties he will inevitably face, with more lies and deception, throwing the blame on ‘an incompetent Labor Government that left Federal finances in an awful state, much worse than they revealed before the election’, a Government that has left their ill-conceived plans for hiking taxes so tied up with red tape and contracts that he is unable to undo them. He will not develop contingency plans in advance to deal with these matters; he would simply blame Labor and Treasury and the public service and anyone else he can think of for the mess in which he landed himself, a mess he might have avoided had he thought through his proposed actions and his off-the-top-of-the-head promises, and developed contingency plans to manage them.
Does Tony Abbott actually have a Plan B? If his Plan A fails, his pugilistic whirling dervish plan, as it seems likely to do in a spectacular way, there seems to be nothing else.
To make matters worse, apart from having no obvious contingency plans, he seems to have no affirmative plans either. He has no well-developed and properly costed policies that might appeal to the electorate and provide a plausible alternative to Government policies. He keeps telling us, for more than a year now, that policies are being developed, but they are being so kept under wraps that nobody has had a chance to see them, raising doubts as to whether they really exist.
Were we to be so unfortunate to have him elected as PM, the people of Australia would descend into the slough of despond at his lack of planning, and be pulled down with him into the ditch of destructiveness he has dug, a trench from which he seems to have no Plan B to escape, from which recovery would be slow and painful. Do we want this?
Should the people of Australia have to live with Abbott’s negativity and obstruction, his incompetence, his lack of planning and his obsessive desire to get hold of the keys to The Lodge, no matter how he does it, no matter how many he hurts on the way, no matter how much destruction and mayhem he leaves in his wake, no matter what terrible damage he does to the economy, to the people, to the psyche of the electorate, to the fabric of our society?
This would-be Prime Minister acknowledged only last week that“Gillard will not lie down and die…”
The pugilistic politician realizes that in PM Gillard he has met his match. The people should ask what he intends to do next, should demand he reveal his Plan B, if he has one at all.
What do you think?