Tony Abbott's excuse for not going to Afghanistan with Julia Gillard last week is weak. Abbott said that he declined to go to Afghanistan with Gillard because he did not want to project any idea of unanimity of purpose with her - while protesting that unanimity of purpose is exactly what he was trying to project:
"... I just won't cop any suggestion that I am indifferent to the fate of our troops or uninterested in the success of their mission," [Abbott] told a news conference.A joint appearance by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader would be more than the sum of its parts. It would be a visual demonstration that the commitment of Australian troops is bipartisan. It's never been done, but it would still be worth doing and both leaders would be enhanced by the process. If both of them deign to appear in the House of Representatives, if both attend military funerals, there is no reason why they cannot save time and resources and go together to Afghanistan. Indeed, given this, it would have been desirable.
I take back what I said about David Johnston, the man's a fool. Putting Australian troops in Abrams tanks would invite attack and do nothing for building rapport with the people whose interests we are trying to defend. Abbott has done nothing to distance himself and a future Coalition government from such stupidity.
Abbott deepened his lack of understanding of the military by requesting to go out on patrol. He's not trained, and he devalues the hard work and skill of those who are by just assuming he can tag along and not get in anyone's way. He's a greater danger to our troops than he is to the enemy.
"... I just won't cop any suggestion that I am indifferent to the fate of our troops or uninterested in the success of their mission," [Abbott] told a news conference.Cop it sweet, fool. Speaking of which, what can be said for this? Yes, Gerard, we've all moved on since the 1950s. If "Gillard and Abbott essentially agree on foreign policy", then a joint appearance would have given more assurances to this effect than all the press conferences in Canberra.
Then there's this:
When it was reported that he had declined her invitation to accompany her to Afghanistan, Mr Abbott explained he had not wanted to arrive in Britain jetlagged. Later he admitted his wording had been bad. The reporter who broke the invitation story has said it didn't come from Ms Gillard or her office.Petty, yes, but hardly incredible given Abbott's record. It was also stupid of Abbott not to expect Labor to "play politics" in this way: I would have loved to hear Gerard Henderson or Chris Pyne claim that John Howard would never, ever have played politics in this way, not even with an Opposition Leader who hands them the opportunity.
Regardless of its origin, Ms Gillard did use it to make Mr Abbott look bad - but he'd helped her.
Then, when he reached Afghanistan, he provided her with more ammunition by his "bastardry" lines. He accused her office of briefing journalists ''that I'd somehow dudded the troops by not visiting'' when he had personally told her of his plans - well ahead of her invitation.
With Australian troops fighting and dying there, this scrapping seems incredibly petty.
Michelle Grattan should have queried why Abbott could not bring himself to drop his plans and join Gillard, for the sake of unanimity and minimising resource wastage. That would require the sort of analysis that comes with experience, though to be fair she is spot on here:
For Mr Abbott this is a particularly dangerous time. He does not take defeat well, as we saw when he went into a prolonged funk after the 2007 election. His failure to win this election, after coming so close, is especially galling for him.The low bastardry, the total unfitness to be Prime Minister, comes with Abbott himself. Even the photo of him frowning at the uniformed soldier is not Prime Ministerial, it's not paternal concern, it's not even worry for Our Boys In The Front Line. It's incomprehension: he doesn't understand what's going on, he's not taking in what's being said to him. The idea that the Liberals should interpret this in any way other than their own leader's petulance reflects poorly on them. Given that the Liberals' key strengths are in security and economic policy, and given their economic record has suffered, why would they throw away their other pillar for the sake of a leader (pro tem.)?
Yet as Opposition Leader he can't just sulk and get some therapy from writing a book. Nor can he simply kick and scream and expect parliamentary numbers will change by the independents swapping sides.
While it is possible something unforseen, such as byelections, could happen, the independents are likely to hang in where they are. The Parliament has a good chance of lasting all or nearly all its full term.
Mr Abbott at some point has to switch to tactics to deal with that. Very quickly, he needs to get himself into the mind space to cope with such an uncongenial outcome. Otherwise his colleagues will lose faith in him.
The major challenge for Australian and allied forces in Afghanistan is to win over the populace against the enemy. It requires hard and soft power. Drawing a feeble parallel between war and politics (oh go on, everyone else does), Abbott has no soft power and doesn't respect it; he has less hard power than he imagines. Gillard understands soft power and has hard power, and both are growing by the day against a pitiful opponent.