The opinion polls and betting markets indicate that the probability of Tony Abbott becoming PM and the Abbott Party taking power at the next election is increasing. To date a lot of attention has been focussed by the media and the Abbott Party on Kevin Rudd and his performance, and he’s been marked down. Now that Abbott believes he is a serious contender, it’s time the media, indeed all voters, focused on him and what an Abbott Government might look like.
It’s a curious thing that the media has placed Abbott under so little scrutiny to date. Maybe they saw him as such an outside chance that they instead focussed on hacking away at Rudd to knock the Teflon coating off his stratospheric approval. The media hate a tall poppy, especially one who defied their incessant predictions over several years of the end of his honeymoon, who seemed immune to their barbs, who refused to conduct himself as they expected a PM to behave. Add to that his disdain for much of the media, his unwillingness to ‘buddy-up’ to journalists, his refusal to pour money into media coffers via Government advertising, as did John Howard, and the personal vendetta The Australian has been running for a couple of years now, and you have an explanation of why the media attacks have continued so viciously for so long. They rejoiced in his falling popularity and Labor’s decline in the polls, which they believe they have largely brought about.
During the GFC the media could find little to criticize. Although some journalists were critical of the stimulus right from the beginning and although a few still are, most acknowledge now that it saved the nation from recession, high unemployment and a flood of business failures, leaving Australia in a position the envy of other countries, most of which still flounder. That this result might be banked and credited to the Government at the next election was a faint hope. People quickly forget and are susceptible to media and Abbott Party propaganda that the threat to our economy was not as bad as made out, that the Government panicked, overspent and racked up debt. That argument is easy to sustain as the people never ever did get to feel the effects of a full-blown recession. Something prevented impresses less than something cured, as all doctors know.
Of course once some of the unintended and adverse effects of the stimulus became manifest, such as the insulation misadventure and the problems with the BER, both the direct result of rorting by disreputable firms, the Government was exposed to criticism. The media, especially News LImited, went feral and day after day ran stories of deaths, fires, fraud and rorts that took much of the shine off what were successful programs despite all the bad press they received.
Then Rudd backtracked on some initiatives that seemed doomed to failure - the ETS and the insulation programme, and aborted some of the planned pre-school centre building. This gave his adversaries an opening to attack, and they did with great ferocity.
We saw the ‘pecked chook syndrome’ begin and steadily accelerate. For those who have never kept chooks, this is where one fowl gets out of favour with the rest, who then attack it, pecking its neck until feathers are lost and bleeding occurs. Once blood appears the frenzy increases and the attacks accelerate until the fowl has to be removed or otherwise it is killed. The intent was figuratively to kill Rudd as a leader and as a politician. The campaign might succeed and Labour might go down with him.
So it behoves the assassins to contemplate what they will get if that happens - an Abbott Government and Abbott as PM.
After Abbott’s speech in reply to the Budget, it looks as if he and his party and Rudd and the Government will be like ships passing in the night. Wayne Swan detailed a sound Budget carefully worked out in consultation with the Treasury, properly costed and predicting an earlier-than-expected return to surplus. In contrast, Abbott abandoned any pretense of attention to fiscal preparedness, and instead decided to fight the election on the issue of the Resources Super Profit Tax. So his address canvassed just a few largely uncosted savings and focussed for two-thirds of his time on attacking the Government and its RSPT. There was no plan, not counter budget, only a hospital pass to Joe Hockey who Abbott said would detail the savings next Wednesday. So the two leaders and their parties are on vastly different paths - one professionally competent, the other populist. It’s as if they are fighting each other in separate boxing rings.
So what do we make of Abbott as a potential PM? Does he know anything about economics, about running a trillion dollar economy? Does he think that presenting a properly costed alternative budget is needed to seize the reins of Government? He says over and again we’ll all be told in the fullness of time and meantime I suppose he expects us to take him on trust. Yet even the day after his budget address he was prepared to concede only $4 billion of savings over the forward estimates while Andrew Robb was touting $15 billion. Where did that figure come from? Why the difference? Abbott does not seem to have what it takes on the economic front, nor seem to care that he doesn’t. He’s a bare-knuckle pugilist who knows only how to fight; reasoning and logic are replaced by ridicule, aggression, and wild punches. This is our next PM if the current polling trend continues.
His speech gave the strong impression that he would return to the Howard era, which administration he has always maintained was a ‘good Government’ that should never have been removed by a ‘sleep-walking electorate’. WorkChoices by another name will feature. Whether appropriate or not, Rudd was portrayed as ‘Howard Lite’; be assured Abbott is ‘Howard Heavy Duty’ - he is much more extreme, more conservative, more determined to return to traditional hard-line conservative values than John Howard ever was. Be warned.
Another Abbottesque feature - his propensity to say whatever he thinks at the time - his ubiquitous thought bubbles - and when his thoughts are found to be erroneous or unacceptable, he laughs raucously, says he should have chosen his words better, and seeks forgiveness. And the media largely lets him get away with these about-turns. Why does he do this? A plausible hypothesis is that this is learned behavior from his religious upbringing where sins and misdemeanors can be confessed, and forgiveness and absolution expected. But how can he expect to operate in this way while governing the nation?
Yesterday, there he was on Neil MItchell’s 3AW Melbourne talkback, asked whether he was ‘rolled’ by his shadow cabinet over his thought bubble about paying stay-at-home Mums $10,000, said he didn't think it was a ‘fair construction’ to say he was ‘rolled’. When asked to put a fair construction on the discussion, he replied by saying: “I'm just not going to do that." And then: “Well, Neil, I've done the best I can. And I'm sorry if I'm a disappointment but I've done the best I can.” A frustrated Mitchell fired back by telling Abbott not to “play that trick”. Abbott laughed loudly and delivered a damning self-assessment. “Yeah, I'm sorry mate. I'm being a wimp - OK?” Read all about it in The Australian of 14 May: I'm a wimp, Tony Abbott declares on Neil Mitchell radio show.
There we have it again - make a mess of things and then say ‘I’m sorry’ and hope for forgiveness. Yet Abbott wants to be our nation’s PM!
Listen to his interview with Mitchell and ask yourself do you want this man governing our country.
So for those out there who want to kill Rudd politically and his party with him, before you do, just contemplate the alternative - Tony Abbott, a bored-stiff economic ignoramus, a man who knows only fighting as a political modus operandi, who seeks only to criticize, demean, destroy. He acknowledges he is a follower of the Randolph Churchill dictum - “Oppositions should oppose everything, suggest nothing and kick the government out”.
With only a paper-thin front bench to support him, we can expect no well-reasoned arguments, no well thought through and costed plans, no vision for this nation’s future, only a return to the most extreme elements of the Howard era, a nihilistic approach to pressing problems such as global warming, and of course unremitting aggression, hostility and ridicule. Is this the man what we want for our PM?
Every time you hear Abbott but,but, butting, a sure sign he is struggling to answer a question or address an issue, something he often does, ask yourself is this man Prime Ministerial material. The answer seems obvious. Yet that may be what he becomes!
Do you want to wake in fright the day after the election?