29 January 2013

Hiding and seeking the real Tony

When the journosphere announced that Tony Abbott was going to engage in a pre-election campaign, going around the country with stunts for the media but offering no specific knowledge about how we would be governed by the Coalition, I thought: how would this be different to what he's been doing for the past three years?

In the recent bushfires affecting the south-east of the country, Abbott purloined a truck and a uniform from the Davidson Rural Fire Service brigade (which was not on active service nor on stand-by), drove it several hundred kilometres and held a press conference for a Liberal MP who isn't seeking re-election.

It was stupid for Abbott to put himself in a position where he was using public emergency resources for a self-serving stunt. He has put the NSW Government in an invidious position too; one that might come back to bite them at a time not of their choosing.

Even if you write all of that off because hey, that's politics, Abbott just looks like a poser. This undercuts the whole action-man persona Abbott and people like Credlin have been carefully building for over three years. Having Abbott fly to Brisbane, spend two minutes filling a sandbag and flying out again - you have to wonder how serious the Coalition really are (as long as you're not a press gallery journalist, who do not dare ask even mild questions like that).

These are proper questions for the alternative government to ask (so long as it doesn't get in the way of actual emergency relief efforts as required right now):
  • Are there any lessons for the Federal Government to have learned from recent emergencies (e.g. the Victorian fires of 2010 2009, the Queensland floods 2011; it may be too early for lessons from more recent events like the Tasmanian fires) which are not being applied here?
  • Is there anything that the Federal government should do besides passively offering assistance and consolation, keeping the Bureau of Meteorology going, and sending out the Army?
Do you think Abbott and the Coalition - anyone at all, even some anonymous backbencher or staffer - is thinking about those issues?

Drag0nista has made the Abbott-Latham link almost ten years after Michael Duffy's Hot for Boofheads. What she and Grattan regard as "the likeliness that he will be in the PM’s office by the end of the year" is nothing more than the conventional wisdom of the press gallery, a meme in which they are trapped and out of which they cannot credibly break no matter what happens. They both rely heavily on the 'they would say that, wouldn't they' of senior Liberal frontbenchers talking up the Liberal leader and talking down his weaknesses.

The point about both Latham and Abbott that it was necessary for each to hide their real selves from the public, in order for the public to hold them at the same regard they hold themselves (and at which Duffy held them). Latham failed in that endeavour and Abbott is starting to do so now, despite Grattan and others in the journosphere having been more than happy to help out with his smoke-and-mirrors routines.

Karen Middleton is a former Chair of the Press Gallery and reports for SBS. Her reports never waver from presenting press gallery groupthink as though it's what is important about how we are governed. People who craft political messages, like Textor, love that predictability and Middleton loves an easy-to-get story. That explains the kissy-kissy insider intimacy here, the disdain for the barbaric "some" (we are millions, Karen, millions. You can't see us from Canberra even if you stand on tip-toes on Capital Hill, and nor can you see us in the crap Textor shows you in the name of "inside information")?

To give another example (if you're a Crikey subscriber), Bernard Keane thinks that Abbott's inconsistency is just part of his charm, and that you gotta let Tony be Tony if you're going to make it in the press gallery; never mind information-gathering for the reader/voter.

On Australia Day we had this, which generated a lot of outrage from people who'd never vote Liberal anyway. If you chopped the last two paragraphs those remarks would have been perfectly apposite, the sort of thing people who like Abbott mean when they speak well of him.

The fact that he didn't is the sort of thing that should worry Liberal partisans more than it does their opponents. The convict thing was a stupid thing to say in SA, a state where people - particularly Liberal voters - bristle at the very idea of "the convict stain". The fact that it leaves Aborigines out of any place in modern Australia is more than merely unfortunate phrasing. It undercuts a lot of the outreach work that Abbott has done with Aboriginal communities such as Noel Pearson's operation in Cape York, and then there's Noel Pearson's operation in Cape York, and of course not forgetting Noel Pearson's operation in Cape York.

The reason why leaders use historical references in speeches is to reinforce their position: to demonstrate an understanding of the past helps reinforce how we came to the present with the leadership that we have; and to command the present is to command the future. To demonstrate a ropey and facile understanding of the past, and one that irritates the audience, can only make people wonder about Abbott's present position and can't help him seek advancement later in the year.
May God bless you and may God bless our country on this important day.
A lot of people got upset at that little injection of religiosity into a secular occasion: I didn't. It was well meant and sincere, and should be accepted as such. His real mistake was to depart sunny Glenelg to throw himself into a pre-election campaign.

The pre-election campaign is a Liberal Party ploy foisted on weak leaders. Nick Greiner submitted to it in the late 1980s, leaving nothing to chance at a time when it was a new and exciting idea from the US. Of all people, Andrew Peacock succumbed to it in the lead-up to the 1990 election, and a fat lot of good it did him. Jeff Kennett and Barry O'Farrell disdained the very suggestion, and so have other confident and electorally-successful Liberals since. You show me a Liberal leader who gets sucked in to a pre-election campaign, and I'll show you someone who's electorally doomed and who gets pushed around by backroom operators. The last Liberal leaders to fall for it were, if I recall correctly, Peter Debnam and Robert Doyle. If Isobel Redmond survives she will almost certainly be subject to this indignity too.

Abbott's pre-election campaign launch in a Lidcombe shed did nothing for party morale. Active Liberals, keen Abbott fans, knew that they were engaging in an empty exercise - and it shows on and undermines the all-important TV optics. The fact that news programs shunted their coverage of it after the flooding in Queensland and northern NSW reinforces the image of Abbott as poser. That event did nothing for the part of Australia which doesn't regard western Sydney as any sort of heartland, i.e. most of it. For those who do it yielded nothing beyond those images. The only real trace of it is this shower of nothing in particular.

The picture on the front page is significant. If it was true that people respond well to Abbott as Alpha Male, they would have stayed with this, which basically says the same things but which appears to have been superseded. On the Real Solutions document, the team are arrayed to prop up a weak leader - similar to the way Labor propped up Bill Hayden in 1980 with the more popular Neville Wran and Bob Hawke.

In that picture the Coalition front bench resembles a public service recruitment panel. It is as though they are to recruit us to their cause, rather than we selecting them as our government. What are they looking at? They remind me of David Moore's picture of migrants regarding Australia for the first time, hopeful but wary; a mix of emotions on their faces as to what lies in store for them. Have Hockey and Turnbull just come from a funeral, or are they at one?

It is heartening to see that Tony Abbott, and by extension the Coalition, believe in Australia and its future. After all that consultation it's a start, but hardly a solution as such. The document really doesn't contain any solutions at all. It reads like the findings of focus group research, transcribed from butchers-paper scribblings with some basic graphic design slapped on top.

Note in particular the recurring logos featuring a white Australia, girt by sea and disconnected from everywhere else: a visual dogwhistle.

I will go into that document in greater detail later in the week, bringing it together with his impending Pikers' Club speech and the various bits of jetsam that have emerged from Team Abbott is recent weeks. The fact that Abbott has been asked more questions about Tim Mathieson's prostate exam comments than about Ashby-Slipper shows what you can expect from the National Pikers' Club.

For the moment, though, Team Abbott are learning the lesson that Team Latham only learned after it was too late. The real lesson of Latham for Abbott is not that the press gallery will suddenly turn into gaffe-hounds like they did with Latham - they won't, not for the Stunt Man who has served them so well. The real lesson of Latham for Abbott is that if you let the public in on the real person that is the leader, people will be repelled and flee before you.

In part, this election campaign will be a race between those who want to discover what an Abbott government will be like and those who want to hide it. This will be a most interesting part of the campaign and the mainstream media will not cover this at all well (and nor will they do "the big issues" either; you know how they roll, devil-is-in-the-detail, are-you-frustrated-you-can't-get-your-message-out and all that).


  1. What is it with Keane? He's inconsistent, often immature but does sometimes come out with some insight.

  2. Two factuals for your correction Andrew. (1) I do not state anywhere that I share Grattan's view that Abbott will win the election. (2) Karen Middleton has not been President of the Press Gallery for quite some time. Phil Coorey was re-elected President unopposed in June last year.

    1. Phil Coorey! That tells you everything you need to know about the Press Gallery

    2. Dragsy:

      (1) Here's your exact quote:

      "With an initial cursory nod to the likeliness that he will be in the PM’s office by the end of the year, Grattan then goes on to qualify this by questioning whether Abbott can successfully make the metamorphosis to Mr Positive:"

      It's "the likeliness" [sic, I think you meant likelihood]. Not Grattan's opinion, or an opinion shared by certain others, but rather "the likeliness".

      Factual, indeed.

      (2) Thanks, fixed.

  3. I'm of the impression that this mini-campaign is a last desperate attempt to boost Abbott's image.

    Margie and the girls didn't work; The Peta Credlin gambit didn't work, so all they've got left is this final roll of the dice before Hockey challenges him for leadership.

    Oops, did I say that.

  4. David Perth29/1/13 10:41 pm

    Thank you for this. Call me niave, but I had absolutely no idea that the Press Gallery would have a Chair and committee. What on earth do they need that for? Please tell me it exists just to arrange the Christmas function.

  5. I chuckled when I read that Tony Abbott was going to take a break from three years of election campaigning to run a mini election campaign to kick off the new year.

  6. A Claytons campaign from a Claytons leader.

  7. Great article. As always. Will the National Pkers' Club ever develop a backbone? I just live in hope.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. When I clicked on the link to the liberals whatever policy I read 'Hope Reward Opportunity' but I saw 'Ho...ward' – that certainly repelled me, and I fled.

    Good piece, again.

  10. Great read as always Andrew. Can't wait for your upcoming analysis of the Liberal's so-called policy platform.

  11. We all know the press gallery will not ask Abbott one single questions about Mal Brough, Cory Bernardi or Andrew Laming.

    We hope that they will, but we know they won't.

  12. We live in strange times, Abbott seems to be trying to just fly under the radar right into the lodge. Every time he opens his mouth, he seems to be worse than the time before. If Labour can hold their nerve, I think some self destruction is going to happen in the Coalition ranks.
    Can't see how they won't be in a frenzied rage if they see it start slipping away towards the end of the year.
    The press gallery is the cliff notes of what ever happened that day, there is no analysis, hasn't been for a long time.

  13. Hi Andrew,

    This is my first reply on here I was going to say before the PM announced a date. I thought the real reason the opposition started this mini campaign because they genuinely believed that the election would be held in March. I guess they have to keep their mini campaign going longer by then I wonder if anyone will be listening by then.


  14. September election date announced.....

    Lame comments on Turnballs facebook that it coincides with a religious jewish holiday

    Poor form...expected better from him.

    The Jewish advisor must have been drinking at lunch today???

  15. Just heard josh frydenberg complaining that Ms Gillard is disenfranchising Jews because she called the Election for Yom Kippur .... I that is the best they can do they e are truly struggling

    1. It's also bullshit. Every election is held on Saturday, the Jewish Shabat. Josh knows as well as I do about prepoll voting, and so do Australia's Jewish community.

    2. He and Danby are Jews of convenience playing identity politics Andrew.

      Danby said that he will be celebrating his religion on that day .

      Religion over politics eh????

      I anticipate a very, very nasty campaign by Danby against The Greens...

      He does that well and uses the older Jewish members for his nasty tactics

      Danby might have a strong constituency however many in Melbourne Ports especially the Gay voters think hes a traitor for changing his views on Gay marriage last election.

      Hes not popular with a younger demographic.


    3. http://galusaustralis.com/2013/01/6755/why-a-yom-kippur-election-is-great-for-the-jews/#comments

      Some Jews dont think so.....

  16. Peter Warrington30/1/13 4:41 pm

    Morrison in by March? wasn't it March when Fraser rolled Snedden?

    1. February 1975. In the Lodge by Christmas that year.

    2. Peter Warrington2/2/13 5:32 pm

      actually I'm sticking with March. but Morrison may strike in Feb...

  17. Karen Middleton just noticed that Abbott doesn't do questions at his stunts, calling it 'weird'.

    No flies on you, Karen!

    Jesus wept. She's been covering federal politics for how long?

    1. Tossers never change their spots with remarks like that Anon.

      He epitomises the posh Australian wanker in all their political glory....

      Dont forget that laugh!!

      As a conservative intellectual ,what exactly will he say this year, that will reinforce that status???

      It always amazes me when the privileged, steal ideas from Ancient Greece etc to make their arguments convulated and pretentious in the press...

      eg, The Australian editorials.

  18. Check out the ABS industrial disputes days lost graph


    and compare with the 'graph' on page 14 of 'Our Plan'. Just brazenly making figures up while giving the source of the information so that anyone (like... er... journos) can see the utter lack of competence and/or honesty. I'd say it's amazing, except that it isn't.

    1. they lie about productivity, or imply it has gone down from the howard years at any rate but their graph is right on that count. ABS figure is quaterly, they've gone for the annual figure

  19. Chris Grealy31/1/13 6:31 am

    I only hope you're right that Abbott is doomed, otherwise Australia is doomed. You only have to look at what's happened in Qld since Undo Newman got in.
    Quick word on that frontbench photo - how many voters are going to recognise everyone in it? I couldn't name them all and I do pay some attention to parliament. Poor old Malcolm is just about unrecognisable down the end there too. He's trying to stay as far from these boofheads as he can :)

  20. Andrew no one I know, MSM columnist, blogger, twitter 'personality', no one has argued as consistently and emphatically that Tony Abbott will lose the next election than you (your banner headline is unambiguous.) And you have consistently presented many convincing and evidence-based arguments for this view. No one can say you aren't willing to stick your neck out. Way, way out. Dear god, I hope you are right.

    However, I can only imagine you have something in mind of what you will say if September 15 comes along and Tony Abbot IS Prime Minister of Australia. You must have considered this possibility and what you will write if it happens (touch wood). Otherwise you're even more crazy brave than first appears.

    1. I've considered it, in the same way that I consider the possibility that a tree will fall on my house. It's unlikely, and I've taken steps to minimise the risk, and so the only choice is to get on with life.

    2. Haha, good answer. Well. As I say, you certainly have more cajones than the majority of the "maybe this, on the other hand that" MSM...

  21. Nigel Gladstone31/1/13 10:51 am

    Hi Andrew,
    Some good points in this post but you have a few holes that destroy the credibility of your journalism.
    I checked your claims about Abbott's "Purloined fire truck" pressa, it seems you are making up a travesty while commenting that political reporting is poor, making up stuff is worse!
    It's unfortunate you are adding to the lazy commentary that is passed of as online journalism. The NSWRFS clearly had all crews on standby it is not a matter of dispute.
    Who told you Abbott hijacked the firetruck? I verified the reason why the truck went to Nowra by calling the station, the acting station captain, Darrell said there was "nothing political about the call and laughed at your idea that a truck could be politically "purloined" without anyone noticing or saying something, I guess you forgot to call him (0417 517 015) or anyone else at the station, please straighten out your 'facts'.
    The all crews on standby release is below. If you can add any credibility to the claims you open this post with I'm all ears and ready to follow the story up. http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/file_system/attachments/State08/Attachment_20130107_C3DA377D.pdf

    1. What journalism, Nigel? This is an opinion site, where we get our facts right about as often as journalists do. You've started with a poor assumption, but thanks for providing the extra detail (did Darrell give you permission to splash his phone number all over the internet?). Glad you follow the site so closely.

  22. Nigel Gladstone31/1/13 1:49 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    Sad to hear you're not interested in facts or journalism, I guess I did make a poor assumption there, especially considering other journo's are referencing and linking to your blog as a better way for politics to be reported.
    Darrell's phone number, is listed on the Davidson rural fire service website and is used by acting captains of the station so it's pretty well splashed around the net already. I'm glad to hear you do care about some facts online!
    I am new to your site so I guess I have some adjusting to do.

    1. Nigel, you'll never make it if you're going to misconstrue what I said. It must be fun going from sad to glad so rapidly, even though what you reported doesn't really back up what you believe. Guess you'll just have to wait and watch and ride that emotional roller-coaster of yours until all the facts are in, whether they may be convenient for you or not.

    2. Ah, the eagerly awaited Arrival of Nigel.k.Williams.

  23. I shakes me head in incredulity.
    What the hell is going on in this country?
    As I understand it, from the above, Abbott used a fire truck for yet another of his dress-up political stunts.
    Whilst on standby [or not].
    With the knowledge of the fire people?

    Is that correct?

    And nobody in the media and government and public has jumped up and yelled and screamed that this should be quite simply not allowed?

    I despair.