The turning point came with Tony Abbott's "classic hits and memories" speech, a catalogue of stupidity that revealed Abbott as not the alternative Prime Minister, but just another commentator and not a particularly insightful one at that. Since then it's been legitimate to ask what Abbott would do in office, in a way that apparently wouldn't have been legitimate at any point over the past two years or so. Since then the spotlight on the government has been a bit warmer: the narrative that the government is hopeless and doomed depends upon the alternative being markedly better, or at least worth the benefit of the doubt.
Laura Tingle gave the most detailed vivisection of the Coalition's pretense to economic policy:
One of the clear messages of the speech seemed to be that the Coalition was quietly walking away from earlier commitments to tax cuts without a carbon tax to fund them.Quite so.
But that was then denied, and even more confusion ensued about just what the Coalition’s tax plans were.
The next day, Mr Hockey talked about the Coalition aiming for a consistent surplus of 1 per cent of gross domestic product– about $14 billion or $15 billion a year ... By yesterday, Mr Abbott was reduced to saying just that the Coalition would “get back to surplus as quickly as possible”. But we are left wondering what is the goal of the Coalition’s fiscal policy? It started as an exercise in fiscal machismo that was supposed to stand in contrast to Labor profligacy.
For all intents and purposes, it looks like the Coalition has to go back to the drawing board.
The way this disaster has played out can also only lead observers to the conclusion that the senior members of the opposition frontbench don’t talk to each other.And if Abbott was going to fix that, he'd have done so by now. The only thing worse for Abbott than having Hockey and Robb at daggers drawn is having them working closely together. They would be able to make the sorts of specific decisions that would define the next Coalition campaign, taking control away from Abbott, Credlin and Loughnane. For them to be the voice of economic consistency and to define what the Coalition would and wouldn't commit to renders Abbott a figurehead.
Yet, his party requires Abbott to get over himself and bring all the talents together. Malcolm Turnbull has demonstrated his loyalty and persistence in pursuit of the Coalition's insubstantial campaign against the NBN, and I doubt Senator Arthur Sinodinos is still a floundering newbie. A real leader, like John Howard eventually became, would have been able to harness those enormous egos and have them pull in the one direction: the fact that Abbott sat at his feet for so long and hadn't learnt that pretty much negates his central claim as a leader.
Peter van Onselen tried to say the same thing as Tingle, but much more torturously.
While I am confident (if not overjoyed) Gillard's demise will, in time, still happen so entrenched are her negatives her downfall will be in spite of this week's developments, not because of them. But if I am wrong, an unlikely Gillard recovery will happen on the back of the approach Labor adopted this week.It's almost unfair to pick on a guy who is as conflicted as that. Almost.
The government won the week ...Won what? This is PR-wank, a bogus metric for publicists to justify their parasitic existence; it has no place in journalism. I can still remember in the 1999 NSW election campaign, the team all gathered around the analog telly watching the news each night and Kerry Chikarovski imperiously declaring that "we won the night" (well, until the final week of that campaign). It's stupid to claim an utterly bogus prize that confers nothing at all: it's only a "psychological victory" for people dumb enough to think it's important.
Gillard changed tack to take on the important role of economic spruiker-in-chief.Gillard has commented on economic matters throughout her Prime Ministership. The only thing that's changed is that the press gallery seem to have called off their info-picketline of this government: the press gallery is happy to tell us that the government "can't get its message out" because the press gallery won't tell us straight up what that message is. At first this was frustrating: you have to hunt for the government's message, but after a while of doing that you find that you don't need the press gallery.
If news junkies like me don't need the press gallery, and the great majority of the population don't take any notice of them either, then it would seem that the politicians are the only ones listening to the press gallery - and some of the smarter pollies are already starting to work around them, and the bean-counters at MSM outlets are running the rulers over every cost-centre. The press gallery had no choice but to get down to work (apart from Grattan, who is still away on some jihad against Gillard, and of course News Ltd).
Wayne Swan is not known for his rhetorical skills, so it was important he received back-up ...Yes, it sure is. It's surprising that Swan didn't have a cheer-squad of ambitious backbenchers on economics committees etc fending off some of the more egregious attacks against him, like Keating did. If he can muster the numbers to be deputy, and if he was such a big cheese in Queensland, surely he can spread the load of economic commentary beyond himself and the boss.
The major stumbling block to a Rudd return is that Swan's position would become untenable - and if his position is untenable, so is the government's. Rudd simply has to find a way around that, given that his team-building skills put him on the outer and are keeping him there.
The importance of the PM's switch to economics is timing and contrast ...Yes, it does. This paragraph negates the one before it, which was more PR wank and gobbledygook.
timing ahead of global economic threats spilling over into a second GFC; contrast with the Opposition's lacklustre economic performance, especially this week.It is nonsense to talk of "a second GFC" when it is clearly a continuation of the one begun in 2007-8.
The Opposition's economic performance isn't "lacklustre" - Swan's performance is lacklustre, the Coalition's economic performance is structurally buggered. After mincing and squirming around, van Onselen finally delivers three paragraphs of clear, strong prose that nails the Coalition's predicament:
The Coalition finance team can't seem to agree on when they will return the budget to surplus. It can't tell the public how or from where it will find its $70 billion in pledged budget savings. It won't rule out using the same accountants who costed its policies at the last election, despite the firm having been fined for breaching professional standards on that very piece of work. And it continues to rely on its discredited costings from 2010.Another "rich economic mind" from the Coalition who has been raising her profile has been Professor Judith Sloan. She doesn't need to raise her profile for academic or corporate appointments. She used to be a director of the ABC and she is using its various outlets to raise her profile (well, many of them anyway - there isn't yet a Judith and Hoot, but on current projections it's only a matter of time). She lives in Melbourne and has a strong connection to Adelaide, having worked at Flinders University for many years. There's only one Liberal seat available in either city:
Abbott's blue-collar worksite visits to condemn the carbon tax haven't been matched by a plan to save blue-collar jobs in the wake of the high Aussie dollar. Conversely, he doesn't have the courage to say what all good economic liberals know: Australia shouldn't be producing motor cars. And Abbott's confused messages of fiscal conservatism, coupled with large-scale plans to spend taxpayers' dollars to pork barrel, fuel discontent behind the Liberal lines (at least among the few economically literate members of the party room).
Then there are the personnel problems. Rich economic minds like Malcolm Turnbull and former Howard chief of staff Arthur Sinodinos are kept away from finance portfolios. Sinodinos has been left to languish on the backbench. It makes a joke of Abbott's claims he has his best team in place. Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey and finance spokesman Andrew Robb don't particularly like one another and they certainly do not respect each other. And neither does the business community, who line up to question both men's credentials (and aptitude) to manage our $1 trillion-plus economy.
- Menzies, currently occupied by Kevin Andrews; and
- Boothby, currently occupied by one person who has achieved less than Andrews: Andrew Southcott. This is the guy who qualified as a medical practitioner and then led the opposition, such as it was, to a tobacco control measure on the basis of advertising and brand rights. If you think it's unfair to summarise his career that way, name me one achievement of Andrew Southcott other than getting re-elected.
Anyway, enough kite-flying. Back to van Onselen:
The problem is that he doesn't want to take the political risk of offering up a genuine economic blueprint to secure Australia's economic future, because doing so would involve elements of unpopularity. The alternative, however, is a loss of credibility at a time when economics is dominating the public's thinking.For most of the Coalition, Fightback! is a figment of history about as relevant to today as, say, the credit crisis of 1961. Tony Abbott was John Hewson's press secretary. The failure of the Coalition to win the 1993 election meant that standards of public life, particularly in economics, need not be so high as to exclude him. Now, he's being asked to produce a Fightback!-style vision, and he can't just laugh it off. Stuck between reprising "the longest suicide note in Australian political history" and just tooling around, patronising blue-collar workers by pretending to do their jobs for them, he will be unable to tread a kind of middle path that will establish him as what the press gallery imagined him to be: the more stable alternative to Gillard. Van Onselen's second last paragraph starts off as piffle but ends with a zinger:
Let's face it, if the Liberals don't win the next election it will be the most gut-wrenching defeat in the party's history, more so even than 1993.He's dead right there. Mind you, three years after 1993 they were back in office.
The fact that Abbott is no longer getting the benefit of the doubt is encouraging. He lost it after the carbon price passed, but somehow he hammered a nail or something and the idea that this was the guy who'll lead us to a bright, smart and compassionate future came back. He blew it with that speech at the start of this month. It's all downhill from here: he may yet survive to 2013 but he'll limp the final few lengths. After the next election I hope the right wing have the courtesy to fuck off and die like the moderates did throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
A surplus will set up Swan for vindication: the same people who are now claiming it is irrelevant, Canberra-insider hoo-ha are the same people who were most insistent that the Budget must be returned to surplus before the next election. It is over those people that Labor's victory will be had - them, and the Coalition. A vindicated Swan will force the Coalition into a lot of me-tooism - car industry donations, expensive nativist defence procurement, disability and Medicare dental - the whole idea of electing Abbott was that the Liberals would distinguish themselves sharply from Labor. They have hemmed themselves in to the point where their options are limited, for all their perception (among themselves and by a previously smitten press gallery) of strategic flexibility and tactical openness.
After two years with Abbott as leader, and almost that long again until the election, the Coalition is putting forward a policy platform that is pretty much the same as Labor's, only less so in many respects. Battlelines in name only.