07 January 2013

Exit strategy

The Coalition had hoped to win the 2013 election with a series of stunts that boxed Labor into a range of narrow, unpopular positions while enabling the Coalition to basically cruise into office promising anything and nothing. Everyone in the Coalition has been devoted to that strategy and it worked, for a while.

Now the strategy starting to fall apart. The government is occupying more positions that are less unpopular and looking more like a government. It is in a position to challenge the Coalition to prove itself rather than being able to maintain the position that all politicians dream of: to have their words taken at face value.

The Coalition has failed to address its Howard-era weaknesses in workplace relations and in being seen to engage with what might broadly be called "the future": policies such as education, telecommunications, economic/ cultural/ military/ other engagement with Asia, all fall into that general but palpable category. The idea that Labor are trying to deal with those issues but the Coalition aren't even trying will be a key reason why Gillard will get another go, however grudgingly, and why the idea of an Abbott Government will remain both a fantasy for Libs and a bogey for everyone else.

The failure of the Coalition's strategy can no longer be attributed to a failure of commitment. Right-whingers used to blame moderates for undermining the Coalition in past election campaigns, but by 2007 there were no more moderates left to blame. There is nobody in senior federal Coalition ranks who is not in thrall to the proven failure that is Mark Textor and his basic assumptions, which are:
  • Nobody really cares about policy detail or how policies actually affect them, elections are really all about "the vibe";
  • Part of "the vibe" involves a chip on the shoulder about "elites", from which corporate and political elites are excluded but which does include people involved in the arts and/or education; and
  • That Mark Textor is a genius. Any doubts about the first two points can simply be negated by the sheer obvious force of this one, so shut up.
There is no scope to challenge that failing Coalition strategy now that we are in an election year, not even privately within Coalition circles. There will come a time for finger-pointing, where petty mudslinging and big-picture canvas-splashing become indistinguishable; there'll be plenty of that this time next year. As a Coalition insider the best you can do is see clearly what is going on, pack your parachute and shuffle discreetly toward an exit-row seat. This is what Arthur Sinodinos did in early 2007, and what Julie Bishop has done on regular occasions since then.

Two Coalition staffers (are they financial members of the Party, and does it matter either way?) are in their personal endgames as far as bringing about an Abbott government is concerned. They each have an exit strategy, but the differences are fascinating.

Peta Credlin's exit strategy involves pregnancy, as you can see if you winnow out the dross from this. She warned Abbott that she had other options and was pursuing them, while helping confine Abbott to a series of inescapable and flawed positions (e.g. on carbon tax). If she gets pregnant, nobody will blame her for leaving Abbott to play his game of double-or-nothing with basically the same stake he had last time (except fewer women's votes).

It's touching that she took Abbott at his word on abortion and IVF, but pretty stupid that she expects the nation to do likewise. It's puzzling that News Ltd believes such views makes one "progressive". The Coalition vote has not gained appreciably in any way that compensates for the collapse in support from women since 2010, and Credlin bears much responsibility for this - until she takes her leave.

Credlin was happy to describe herself as "The Queen of No" when it suited her purposes, which were identical to those of the seemingly-powerful Abbott. Now that Abbott has lost his lustre Credlin needs a change of image, as a prelude to a change of scene. Remember how Mark Arbib said that he was quitting to spend more time with his children (remember how the press gallery took him at face value)? Credlin doesn't have children, and given that her husband is the Liberal Party's Federal Director and Campaign Manager she is already in the right position to spend as much time with Brian Loughnane as anyone could want.

Loughnane's absence from Credlin's recounting of her IVF experience across different publishing outlets is telling. IVF is rarely a journey on which women go by themselves. Almost every every other article on the topic features both parties in a couple recounting their different perspectives of a process that is almost always medically and emotionally fraught. Samantha Maiden was clearly too polite to ask after Loughnane, and being a rookie reporter she also blew the opportunity to ask Credlin some pointed journo-style questions about Gillard-AWU or other political scandals du jour, or indeed about Coalition strategy more broadly.

The fact that Loughnane has opted out of such a public discussion of a private matter is to his credit. It is hard to imagine the stiff-necked Liberal backroom operators of yesteryear - Andrew Robb, Sinodinos, Alister Drysdale, even Grahame Morris - discussing whether or not their boys can swim and how this is affecting their partners and/or their relationships. Credlin has to go through this to get an alibi. Loughnane doesn't need one, he is strapped in for death or glory.

So too is The Situation. Imagine his outrage if a government staffer had used a publicly-funded fridge for this private purpose: the shaken head, the sotto voce lamentation at waste, the dog-whistling to those with a religious objection to IVF, etc.

This is where the testimonials from the women in Abbott's life fail: nobody doubts Tony will support women who support him. In the same way, nobody doubts his antipathy and/or indifference to the broad mass of women beyond his personal circle, who believe they should be able to enjoy basic rights over their bodies and reproduction without having to form close personal relationships with Tony Abbott. That's how you break the silly set-piece debates Gordon Graham is talking about here; it is possible to 'win' such debates and lose the election. The extrapolation from Abbott's private life to the country at large simply does not work.

Then there's the question of "support". Given that an Abbott government will seek to reduce existing levels of government spending, nobody seriously believe Abbott would maintain or increase spending on abortion and IVF. This is why it is meaningless to claim Abbott "supports" these things for people with whom he is not close.

The first rule of Peta Credlin is that there are no flies on Peta Credlin; nor will there be, and nor will any evidence exist as to where any might have been. Her exit strategy is to spend time creating a family with which she can spend more time, the one alternative to her current role with which no conservative can legitimately quibble or sneer.

This is a rule that James Ashby would have done well to abide by. Ashby has pretty much staked everything on the Coalition coming to government and rewarding him for bringing down Peter Slipper. Ashby has no choice but to go on; he can't slink away after the sort of caning that Justice Rares dished out. It's vindication or the void.

Those who call for an inquiry into Ashby-Slipper are almost certainly wasting their time. Only rusted-on Coalition partisans and people with good memories for political ephemera even remember Slipper as being linked to Labor in some way. The more time goes on, the more Mal Brough and Mark McArdle and other LNPQ characters are implicated, the more it becomes a problem for the Coalition - and with every appeal, and every Anthony McClelland media stunt, that problem is highlighted. The government doesn't need an inquiry to draw attention to the Coalition's predicament, they will do it themselves.

Ashby is, metaphorically speaking, covered in flies; you can see where they've been, and he'll never be anything more than the Slipper honey-trap guy. He isn't going to "spend more time with his family". He's locked in to one of those horrible politico-media-legal imbroglios where nobody comes out a winner, where vindication is pretty much impossible, and where the only question comes as to when the LNPQ conspirators will drop him to minimise their losses.

Abbott isn't going to regroup because there is no idea for him to regroup around. People thought this would be true of Gillard, and they were wrong. When people like Peta Credlin start heading for the exit only a fool would stick around on the expectation of victory. Only a fool would "take one for the team" that is going nowhere and starting to fall apart. Commitment is essential to victory, but there's no point failing to put yourself into a position where you can fight another day.


  1. Great post Andrew

    One of the points I was trying to get across yesterday was the fact the tactic Abbott's chief of staff is trying to use is extremely desperate. You've added in a lot of the internal party details.

    I think that many in the public see right through Abbott, his shallowness and his extreme hypocrisy but they find him boring as he constantly has no regard for how people in the community feel. So they look to the ALP for an answer and they see more of the same in regards to playing the inconsistent tactical games rather than speaking to real issues (even though they've got policy runs on the board) which has lead to mass disengagement.

    I think we might have a slight difference of opinion there, but I'm in agreement with your views in regards to the internal silliness and lack of real policy debate that goes on within the Coalition.


    1. I think with bushfires about to rage all over NSW and Victoria and Ted and BArry drastically cuttting fire services, Campbell in Qld already in hell country politically and the CLP already on the nose in the NY there will be a rethink in the federal election.

      Now I always prefer labor governments because they do build and reform things.

      But Gillard is a ghastly freak show.

      Whining about sexism she consigns tens of thousands of poor women and their kids to further poverty in a shades of Howard moment, she exiles women to prisons for life because she is a racist ignorant coward and always has been, she jails thousands of innocent kids without cause, some for potentially their whole lives under a law she once voted against.

      I mean Al Kateb of course which everyone forgets was written by Nick Bolkus of the ALP, the jails were of the ALP making under Gerry Hand after others like Margaret Reynolds and Mick Young had rejected it.

      WE have a woman A G with no interest in the rule of law claiming we have to jail new born babies for life to protect us, we have a female health minister happy to mete out torture to women and kids, an female human services minister happy to dish out racist attacks on aborigines and refugees and single parents - all these women in power are freaks and horror shows.

    2. Agreed! Women should be the reforming Angels in the House, mitigating the Animal Spirits of the Male Psyche... wait a minute... what century were we in again? (Note for the simplistic, this doesn't equate to support for the horrible policies outlined above.)

    3. What on earth are you talking about?

    4. Gordon, we are agreed on shallow internal party debates. On this issue, however, that shallowness is projected outwards: the idea that Credlin will attract votes just because the let "hypocritically" attack her is a fantasy.

  2. Great contrast with the Labor, MSM and social media take on that interview by Credlin.

    It has been touted by all as just another strategy by the LNP to shore up Abbott's support with women. Interestingly, you see it as a Credlin strategy/foresight to don a parachute for a soft landing from the LNP airplane in preparation for its inevitable crash and burn. I like it.

  3. The call is not for an Ashby/Slipper inquiry, its a call for a complete inquiry into Ashby and who was involved in his attempt to bring down the Govt. As for Samantha Maiden was clearly too polite to ask after Loughnane, I presume that was a tongue in cheek back hander. Maiden has never been polite. She was obviously briefed on what to ask, the whole interview, or chat would be more accurate, was a well planned stunt. It fooled none but the die-hard Tory supporters, who would believe Abbott is pure as a new born babe.

  4. fascinating that the chief of staff to the 'unbackable favourite' is starting to look toward the exits, albeit in a way that ensures the Mainstream media insiders will never ask questions about it. I'd ignored these puff pieces for obvious reasons but that does seem like a telling line, i wonder what their internal polling in Qld and Victoria is starting to look like.

  5. Jeremy
    Very interesting and thought-provoking - thank you. Leaving to reduce stress to try for a pregnancy would also make complete sense.

    I believe like David that an inquiry into Ashby would help to cast a wider net, discover who else was complicit and who is paying, maybe showing links to the other 'let's bring down one member' campaigns.

    The Ramjan/Kroger case was also adjourned to March - not good timing for LNP, provided of course that the MSM actually report it, unlike their amazing silence on Ashby.

  6. But how can this be? That other rookie reporter, Katherine Murphy, told us that Tony would be showering us with policy and blinding us with vision as he sheds his negativity and leads us unto a golden age(she for one, was willing to take him at his word). Why would anyone want to get off that wonderful ride?

    P.S. "Rookie" was right: otherwise, why did Maiden have to spend the next day explaining: "I know what I wrote, but what I meant was..."?

  7. I'd agree with you Andrew except for this close to the article.

    Credlin would still dearly love to be a mother, but doesn't think she will try IVF again in an election year.

    "It's more the fact we are in the fight of our lives and you have to be committed. And it takes over your life," she says.

    "And that's just the nature of it an election year.

    "It consumes your life and your partner understands that, and your family understands that. I don't want to have my attention divided. So I probably wouldn't.

    "I've got one job this year and that's to change the government.

    For me those lines made nonsense out of the whole IVF story. No woman of 40+ with fertility problems, bent on starting a family can afford to waste a month, let alone a year. Peta Credlin's No. 1 priority is getting Tony Abbott elected.

    1. But she would say that anyway, not, it's an election year but I'm still going to try to get pregnant. She'd look disloyal and it would be a more obvious jumping of ship. She's too clever to put herself in a bad light. But gee, if she does become pregnant, no one can bad mouth her for leaving poor Tone in the lurch. A perfect excuse.

      I like the way you think Andrew.

  8. Andrew,

    That is an interesting hypothesis about the recent articles laying the ground work for Credlin to exit, stage right.

    However I must respectfully disagree with it.

    I quote you the following from the article(s):

    "Credlin would still dearly love to be a mother, but doesn’t think she will try IVF again in an election year.

    “It’s more the fact we are in the fight of our lives and you have to be committed. And it takes over your life,” she says.

    “And that’s just the nature of it an election year.

    “It consumes your life and your partner understands that, and your family understands that. I don’t want to have my attention divided. So I probably wouldn’t.

    “I’ve got one job this year and that’s to change the government."

    So, it looks like she's "All the way with Tony A".

  9. yeah lets remember:

    pyne: didn't meet then did meet Ashby, didn't ask for his phone number and email adress then did, it was only a few minutes then was 2 hours......

    Brough: never met him "...rowing up a dry creek...", then met him 3 times but offered no advice, then offered advice....

    Asby: being paid by Slipper but working for his Brough's and Doanes advantage and the ultimate advantage of the LNP by possibly bringing down a government if not a change in numbers.

    The 3 of them constantly trying to distance themselves from it and lying and denying, was found out, virtually implicating themselves right in the middle of it all.

    Those are the sorts of things we want investigated and who else knew what "...no SPECIFIC knowlege..." and who else is involved and to what exent as this might be sedition.... maybe.
    what they've been up to is not what democracy is supposed to look like discrace and destroy and win by default.

    I don't give too much credibility to Ashby's claims, as the texts showed a different story than the one he presented in court so I'm really not interested in an investigation into the merrits of his claims. I think they've been tested and disproven. Ask the Judge.


    And where was all the reporting on the Morgan poll in December? nothing?


  10. Andrew,
    You appear to have overlooked Mark Textor's 4th arrow in his killer quiver:
    * Put 'The Leader' on a bike. Have him ride it all around the marginal electorates. Have him go 'Phwoar!' at his daughters in their riding lycra, just like all the Bogans(and Mark), like to do. It'll work a charm with the Tradies! Just not their wives. Bugger! But then the Little Women always vote the way their Old Men tell them to, don't they still? Well, they do in 'The Territory' where Mark comes from!

    Anyway, tracky daks and Power Walking are so John Howard, but the essential imagery of the Putinesque He Man politician must be perpetuated in some updated way. It got John 12 years! :D

  11. Andrew,

    Can i have children with you???

    love,love,love this blog!!!!

    Credlin is married to a Liberal and complains about her role and no life??

    She is the apparatchik from hell and deserves the life she has chosen for herself

    Disgusting stunt here to win in an election year using her personal life for spin

    Please darling ,go ,...... yourself

  12. Anon

    May i politely remind readers of this blog that the political class are

    Dregs of the middle class.

    You get Ms Gillard as pm

    Mr Abbott as opposition leader

    As a Melburnian i see that invites are not
    given to Liberal party people from some ethnic groups that are well established

    True fact

    They are sick of the extremists

    Andrew youre wrong

    Sinodinos is a well respected man and lovely to deal with

    He brings class to the coalition and style with intellectual panache

    Hes really good

    1. error



  13. Ms Credlin's law to the loyal troops is always that staff are not the story. She even makes them close FB and Twitter accounts. How inglorious of her to go public with such a private venture.

    1. Quite so. The idea that this is deft strategy, and a MP/candidate plugging away in their electorate earning the respect of voters isn't, is really amazing.

  14. At least she didnt go to Mia Freedmans media outlet with Mumma Mia

    Now that would have been hilarious!!


  15. Not a specific comment on this post but rather a question about terminology. I believe that some terms are being wrongly used.
    Coalition - We currently HAVE a coalition government; a coalition of Labor, Greens and some independents. The opposition is not a coalition. It is nothing more than Liberals, Nationals, Liberal Nationals, NT Country party, and some independents who are not in government.
    Minority Government - Since I started voting, the governments headed by Whitlam, Hawke Keating and Rudd respectively have been the only Majority Governments. All the others by definition have been minority governments, requiring a coalition to gain the treasury benches.
    By allowing Abbott to highjack these terms we allow him a legitimacy that he does not deserve

    1. We currently have "a" coalition government, but "the" Coalition refers to the Liberal-National combination (with an agreed single leadership and frontbench structure) to which you refer.

      I note that you misspelled the word "hijack".

  16. I hope I'm not wrong to be looking forward to the Josh Frydenberg slap-down?

  17. "The Vibe". Exactly.

    I see similarities with USA, where Romney was ahead in some polls, and at worst 50/50 in others just before the election.... then he got wiped out.

    The pollster who predicted the results the best was the one who didn't rely on the pollsters... he calculated it on how people felt about things... the '13 keys' (aka "The Vibe"):


    Analysing the 2013 Aus election based on most of the same keys (taking out the weird US midterm election stuff):

    1. The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting Prime Minister. (TRUE)

    2. There is no third-party or independent candidacy that wins at least five percent of the vote. (FALSE)

    3. The economy is not in recession during the campaign. (TRUE)

    4. Real (constant-dollar) per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth for the preceding two terms. (TRUE)

    5. The administration achieves a major policy change during the term (TRUE)

    6. There has been no major social unrest during the term, sufficient to cause deep concerns about the unraveling of society. (TRUE)

    7. There is no broad recognition of a scandal that directly touches the president. (TRUE)

    8. There has been no military or foreign policy failure during the term, substantial enough that it appears to undermine Australia’s national interests significantly or threaten its standing in the world. (TRUE)

    9. There has been a military or foreign policy success during the term substantial enough to advance America’s national interests or improve its standing in the world. (TRUE)

    10. The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or is a national hero. (FALSE)

    11. The challenger is not charismatic and is not a national hero. (TRUE)

    If six or more of these statements are false, the incumbent party loses.

    Bearing in mind I've cut the above from 13 to 11, but kept the calculation as 6 negative results and they lose, Gillard is going to win convincingly.


    The real power in voting are the swinging voters. Ignore the rusted on Labor/Liberals. Most of those swinging voters are going to vote Labor or Greens (who will support Labor as the Libs don't believe in climate change).

    Why are they going to mainly support Labor/Greens?.... although they may dislike some policies (e.g. asylum seekers), the majority of the indicators are positive.

    At heart most people are selfish... WIIFM (What's in it for me?). Most people are doing fine right now. If Abbott (or Libs) are elected, then the general good feeling will be at risk due to unspecified large job cuts, service cuts etc etc.

    Basically it's not greener on the other side, and Abbott/Libs are not worth the risk.

    Gillard will win easily. It's totally different answering poll questions than actually ticking a box on election day.

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