09 September 2010

No second prize

I heard about a person who had a broken heart
With nothing to drive him on, no hope no spark no flame
He couldn't see at all, tears they were blinding him
He kept it all inside, the guilt and all the pain

You know I say I tried to warn him
They had him backed up against the wall
I hope I'm not too late

No one can tell you exactly what you have gotta be
You've got to stand your ground and fight to save your life
It may be hard but ooh hoo it's the only way
Always remembering there ain't no second prize
There ain't no second prize

- Jimmy Barnes No Second Prize

Acknowledging the risk of sounding like Irfan Yusuf in interspersing political commentary with songs from the '80s, that is what occurred to me while reading this.

The Greens must surely know that Tony Abbott doesn't want a consolation prize - he wants to be Prime Minister. He doesn't particularly care about bloody parental leave anyway (Abbott is proud of his utter lack of understanding why all pregnant women aren't kept housewives).

Of his other policies, none are superior or more attractive to the Greens. The possible exception is the "Green Army", which would largely comprise and benefit the Greens' base - and as a supplement to environment policies rather than the substitute that Abbott intended. By the time Brown came to offer such an olive branch, so many policies would have been passed that would so offend the conservatives (gay relationships, carbon pricing, anything Ken Henry) that they'd vote against it out of spite.

Tony Abbott gave it his best shot, sticking to those lines you've got to say to get elected, keeping a straight face. He curbed most of his rightwing tendencies - his big chance to become Prime Minister and barely a scintilla of Battlelines in it. He cut out the ad-libs, which he felt comfortable using when backgrounding the press gallery over the years (gave his utterances a whiff of authenticity), but for some reason they turned on him when he started saying the same stuff publicly. Where did it get him? He's in the worst position you can put a Manichean mind in: neither here nor there.

A five-seat deficit would be an honourable loss. 74-76 with rural ex-Nats shunning the conservatives reflects on him personally: Windsor and Oakeshott were not the only voters reluctant to give him carte blanche. All this jowl-wobbling outrage from Pyne and Bolt must be seen in this light, except if there's subsequently a possibility that the balance might change.

Keeping Julie Bishop as deputy is a pathetically weak move on Abbott's part. There was nothing to praise her for. She hasn't mastered the foreign policy brief at all: she seriously believes that foreign policy begins and ends with boat people. When Rudd first became PM he was criticised for snubbing Japan: I would expect that the shadow foreign minister has been to Tokyo half a dozen times by now and has good relations across the political spectrum of that country. Greg Sheridan would be praising her to the skies if she was halfway capable as shadow minister for foreign affairs. Kevin Rudd leapt to the Prime Ministership from that role, after a similar tenure it it to Bishop's. Maybe Bishop isn't stupid, but the fact that she's not across the issues shows her priorities are skewiff.

Andrew Robb or Joe Hockey as deputy would have kicked Abbott up the backside when he started sulking or letting his true feelings show ad-libbing. In her role as YesWoman, Bishop has seen two leaders fatally underestimate their backbench, and while both Nelson and Turnbull are both damn-the-torpedoes guys it is still the deputy's role to warn and advise. Robb would have helped Abbott navigate the rocky shoals ahead, and even Hockey has better political nous than Bishop. She can't even go back to Perth and take over the WA Opposition, because even Labor in that state isn't that desperate. Her continued tenure as deputy is another indication that the Liberals just aren't ready for power.

Positioning Julie Bishop as deputy is like positioning the guns of Singapore before World War II: the wrong thing in the wrong position, and everyone who thinks otherwise has already been proven wrong.
Mr Abbott attacked Ms Gillard, saying she was as illegitimate as her government because she had been installed by factions and then by independents. "It is a government that's utterly without a mandate," he said.
Whereas Tony Abbott was installed by the Minchin-Abetz right after Turnbull got too moderate for them, and seemed perfectly happy to have the same independents hand government to him.
Coalition MPs, furious that Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott sided with Labor, lined up to demand the end of the arrangement and predicted its early demise.

"This is an illegitimate government that is inherently unstable," Mr Hockey said.

The Liberal senator George Brandis implied corruption by saying the government had "as much legitimacy as the Pakistani cricket team".
The idea that the independents are conservative, the Libs and Nats are conservative, so let's have a nasty do-nothing conservative government is an idea that has run its course. Why keep banging on about it? You just look desperate, like you only had one idea and can't accept that it's gone, gone.

Brandis is like Alexander Downer: he thinks he's funny but he's just highlighting his own inadequacy. His team lost the game and can only redeem this by implying that they were duped out of a legitimate victory. This is where Brandis' sneer falls flat: Windsor and Oakeshott haven't lost, Labor hasn't lost, and the idea that this was all done to benefit hidden corporate interests is unworthy of Brandis (or it's one in the eye for those who regard Brandis highly). Brandis isn't just another Liberal Senator, he's deputy leader to Eric Abetz. It is Brandis, Abbott, Hockey and co who have dropped a number of easy catches and otherwise blown a tight Test.


  1. Yes, complete disaster for the Coalition. They should've been able to nail this... 'cept for one thing. Tony's desirability as PM. Interestingly, it's been noted that the one person Tony didn't highlight in his speech today was the person who (I'm lead to believe) gained the highest swing for the Liberal Party. Surely such an achievement would be worth a nod and a cheer. Unless, of course, your name happens to be Malcolm Turnbull.

  2. Well played mate. Always love a barnesy reference. Better than Rebecca Wilson's horrible comparison of Rob Oakeshott to a big brother contestant.

    The liberals took less than a day to prove that the independents made the right choice.

    And why do they persist with Bishop? What does she bring to the table? Or as Barnesy would say, "you got nothing I want, you got nothing I need"

  3. Andrew

    You clearly know the internal workings of the Liberals better than I ever will, but isn't Julie Bishop deputy for her fund-raising in Perth? She may be a goose, but she's golden.

  4. derrida derider10/9/10 10:16 am

    It's hard to disagree with all this, but I'll try anyway.

    Yeah, Ms Bishop is in the wrong job, though I think she could be quite effective in a job where she simply has to be an attack dog and not actually understand or achieve anything.

    But questioning the government's legitimacy at every turn in the hope it all ends in tears for them is an obvious tactic now, and Abbott's combativeness will help him here. He'll play to his strengths. Don't expect anything positive from him for a while (not that he has much capacity for that anyway, as you note).

  5. Michael M, in Sydney10/9/10 3:17 pm

    I have a different take on what Tony Abbott really wants.

    My reading of Abbott's body language these last few days is relief. He may say he wants to be PM, but I think deep inside he knows he hasn't got the goods for the job.

    His metier is pugnaciously opposing everything. Called upon to negotiate, to lead a government, to head a nation, I suspect those notions terrify him.

    Opposing, knocking, belittling, these are all first nature to him, and now, he is free again to let these 'people skills' have full rein.

    As PM, he wouldn't know what to do, and there's no-one in his shadow Cabinet who could guide or mentor him, either.

    For much the same reason - no talent for it, or anything but the snarl and the dig.

    Hockey IS a buffoon, Robb is a hollow man, and Bishop is... singularly capable of passing as both of them in one person.

  6. Bleeter, MM & DD: couldn't agree more. He reminds me of one of those dogs that runs alongside you car barking, all very fearsome but it isn't like he'll take over the car.

    I think Robb sees himself as the mentor figure but few others do: Ruddock, Bishop B. & Andrews play that role for Abbott, and not at all well.

    The attack dog thing worked for a while, but it will become tiresome.

    Peter: you may be right but I reckon Robb or Turnbull could tap that market. They know that she'll lose credibility in a big fight and won't shell out for a lightweight.

    Plum: "I don't have to tell you
    How that you should do your job,
    I don't want to have to be the one to shock your happy home."

  7. Michael M, I can't see what you see at all. Every time I've seen Abbott, his facial expressions and body language have been angry, petulant and aggrieved. He is an extremely ambitious man and I cannot see how he would have any doubts as to his ability to lead. It's almost part of the Liberal creed. I know the left-wingers like to offhandedly dismiss the Libs as the 'born to rule' mob but there is a grain of trust there for some of them.

    I agree with sentiments that Abbott is too aggressive and combative to be a good Prime Minister. But I think he makes an excellent opposition leader. He can channel his anger and aggression effectively and embodies many of the qualities respected by the 'angry white male'. He will single-mindedly attack everything the government tries to do. Unless Julia Gillard starts showing herself to be a conviction politician (and by that I mean not just having the convictions but assertively fighting for them), I think Abbott has a good chance of making the election happen earlier rather than later.

  8. Abbott has displayed arrogance, but it's not the quiet confidence of BTR that, say, Malcolm Fraser had. He screwed up on economics and his effusive praise for Howard shows that he thinks the Prime Ministership is beyond him. He also fears that a Labor Opposition Leader might dish up to him what he dished out to Rudd and Gillard: Abbott can dish it out only.

    BTR hasn't been drummed into Abbott since childhood. The last Liberal leader with ingrained BTR was Downer. I think BTR survives in Australian politics in the NSW Labor Right, where they've held government in this state for >60 of the past 80 years. I was struck by their BTR when I was a Liberal staffer in the '80s, after Labor had been thrashed but were still confident of returning and resuming.