22 August 2013

All in good time

... "Sir! you have disappointed us!
We had intended you to be
The next Prime Minister but three:
The stocks were sold; the Press was squared:
The Middle Class was quite prepared.
But as it is! ... My language fails!
Go out and govern New South Wales!"

- Hillaire Belloc Lord Lundy
Why is the Coalition level-pegging with Labor? Why aren't they streets ahead by now? By this point they should be cruising to victory, not bluffing and winging it and hoping that the press don't notice like they have every day since Howard lost office.

The very idea that Abbott should be level-pegging with a visibly tired Rudd, after almost four years of politico-media busywork and the full support of the Murdoch press (which drags the centre-seeking ABC and Fairfax into a lukewarm pro-Abbott position) is a pathetic outcome for the Coalition. It's been a long time since even the most cliche-ridden journo has hailed Abbott as "the greatest opposition leader ever". He doesn't have cut-through, not even after three-and-a-bit years of uncritical media every day.

Labor has not been smashed like Whitlam was in 1975, nor Keating in '96. Mind you, it hasn't come roaring back like an institutionalised version of Rudd's own Will To Power - but that's nothing to do with Abbott.

There had been a long flat buzz for Abbott, and only then because stories about him were the only positive stories coming out of Canberra for a long time. There had been a short buzz for Rudd because he delivered them from being ignored by Gillard, and it lasted until Murdoch jerked them back into line. Insofar as either had been tangible, both are now gone. The strong polls for Abbott have always been very, very soft, and those of us who said so were pooh-poohed by people who take polls seriously.

Abbott has infuriated Labor voters with his sleazy antics in western Sydney, and whimpering at Rudd to shut up. This is dog-whistling to his silly base, the only kind of politicking he knows how to do, rather than winning over the unconvinced. Nobody who voted Labor or independent in 2010 will vote Coalition on the basis of Abbott's carry-on. The fact that it does not even occur to Liberal strategists that this is a problem shows how heavily they rely upon the largely inapplicable American model, where the uncommitted and disengaged do not vote.

No politician in Australian history has enjoyed such uncritically positive coverage. None has so little to show for it. Shut up? Only those with nothing to say should say nothing.

The whole idea of paid parental leave is to stuff the mouths of women who are unsure about Abbott with cash. People who've had children, and who paid attention (unlike Abbott, who shot through as soon as the hard work needed to be done on that front) know that birth and soon afterwards isn't the period when kids are expensive. If you're serious about supporting families you have to vote against a badly thought out policy imposed on the Coalition not once but twice. It was a dud policy the first time, it is a dud policy now, it deals with a non-problem politically and in the community, and it is not an authentic product of the Coalition parties' own processes.

On one level it is understandable that the Coalition would avoid policy commitments. Labor had two policy wonks in leadership positions, Gillard and Swan; one too many in the top two roles, but two more than the entire Coalition frontbench. Then again, you can't claim that the incumbents are the worst government ever while offering less in every area:
  • Whatever the shortcomings of the Rudd-Gillard governments in healthcare, Abbott's sole differentiating policy - hospital boards - will do nothing to help;
  • If you believe our telecommunications system needs more and better wireless, how will steel cabinets in every street and an unsustainable reliance on copper help? Offering less than "the worst government in Australia's history" makes no sense; and
  • In immigration the government has pretty much negated the Coalition's push, leaving Morrison appealing only to trigger-happy weirdos in a doomed quest for differentiation. You've been wedged, and you can't even tell.
What flexibility you gain by fobbing off calls for scrutiny, you lose in making the case for solid constancy of purpose. When you're fundamentally unserious people, like Abbott and Hockey are, you need all the solidity and constancy of purpose you can get. "All in good time" promises only complacency at a time when we must be alert to opportunities and threats. They can't afford to leave things to the last minute, which is what they've done - again.

In this contest the hare has ground to a halt and winking to his supporters, mistaking their urgings-on with cheers, while the dull tortoise plods on. An uninspiring government faces re-election because its opponent has offered such a weak challenge.


  1. Swing Required23/8/13 11:28 am

    Thanks Andrew.

    I don't mind Tony Abbott winking to his supporters, it's the constant winking to the Press gallery hacks after they 'interview' him that sickens me.

    You're right about the polls. They're very soft. The result hinges on News Ltd v reason and logic.

    Unfortunately, nobody has ever lost underestimating the intelligence of a large portion of the Australian electorate.

  2. Please Andrew, credit where credit is due. Today we have been the fortunate recipients of a brand spanking new slogan.

    Buy the Boats.

    Right, that'll do it, problem fixed, voters stupid.

    I have been with you all the way Andrew, but by Christ I am getting nervous as I come to understand how bloody stupid some of the electorate is.

  3. Dear Brainy People,

    What actually is Clive Palmer trying to achieve by standing in this election ?

    His bad blood with Abbott seems real. Is Palmer trying to split the Conservative vote and award his share via preferences to the ALP just to give Abbott the heebee-jeebies ?

  4. VoterBentleigh23/8/13 11:14 pm

    How the Opposition Leader expects to win over the uncommitted voter with his current strategies (and it's him, not Credlin, calling the shots) is anyone's guess. The latest asylum seeker policy is aimed at distracting the media from asking questions about the Coalition's economic policy (even some in the media noted that), but amending the Coalition's original policy to include additional measures suggests the original policy would not have worked on its own, as they claimed. Worse still, the Opposition plan is to have Australia pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of “your money” for rickety old boats, in other words, junk. The only result of that will be that the fishermen will buy more boats with the money!

    I agree with you, Andrew; Tony Abbott will never be Prime Minister.

  5. He's winking because he knows that the media are, in effect, campaigning for him. I've never seen anything like it, here or anywhere else I've lived. Although we hardly read even the Sydney Morning Herald any more, I have checked in several times this week online. Not only is every domestic political story slanted against Labor, but it's accompanied in every instance by advertisements for the Liberal Party. My nan used to say, "You wouldn't read about it!" Except that you would, and do.

  6. The government has been found to be cruel, inhuman and degrading and behaving illegally jailing refugees.

    Trading and trafficking human beings for votes is disgusting and depraved, why do you think it is OK? Because we are white and can do whatever we like?


  7. Once upon a time in Australia a man wearing full make-up would never be considered PM material and yet TA looks like taking his tanning creams and eye highlighting powders and nut brown hair dyes all the way to the Lodge. God! I hope you are right VoterB

  8. But, Gillard was mean to him!!

  9. I wish the Coalition were merely level-pegging with Labor as you claim, but sadly that isn't the case. Weighted aggregates of published scientific polls put the Coalition at 52 or 53 percent of the two-party preferred vote right now. I'm referring to William Bowe aka Poll Bludger, Pottinger Election Blog, and Kevin Bonham.

    1. And they're all at least 3% out, and they're bullshit, and I stand by the claim that any support for Abbott is soft.

    2. Andrew, you write with insight when the topic is the standard of journalism in this country or the quality of policy development by political parties. But when you dismiss aggregates of scientifically robust polls - aggregates which have a good record in recent state and federal elections - you sound like the conservative who set up unskewedpolls.com during the 2012 US presidential campaign. He didn't trust the poll results that showed the president ahead so he simply "adjusted" the numbers to reflect his preconceived belief that Romney was ahead. What are your concerns about the published polls in Australia?

    3. Much the same as those expressed by Nate Silver: they're just not useful. I would question that a company that can produce rubbish journalism is even capable of sound polling, let alone the exaltation you would heap upon them.

    4. Nate Silver used weighted aggregates of published scientific polls to make extremely accurate statements about the probabilities of electoral outcomes in United States presidential and Senate races in 2008 and 2012. This is the same approach used in the Australian context by William Bowe aka Poll Bludger, Scott Steel aka Pollytics, Kevin Bonham, and Pottinger Election Blog. It's true that the result of one poll is not particularly useful and does not deserve the breathless and innumerate coverage it generally gets in the mainstream media. Perhaps that is what you mean by "rubbish". But aggregates of poll results from several reputable pollsters over a period of months are not rubbish. They can be extremely useful, as Nate Silver's record attests. William Bowe did a good job of interpreting polling data in the 2010 election year. I'm a fan of your work and you make a good case for discarding the current horse race approach to covering politics. I just think you overstate your case when you dismiss statistically rigorous analysis of aggregated poll results as a source of knowledge about electoral probabilities.

    5. Silver said that Australian polls don't have enough info, aren't granular enough to do what he does. Sometimes you just have to read what I say and take that on face value rather than make things up. People's opinions just aren't firm, and no amount of statistical noodling will serve to create (as Orwell put it) solidity out of pure wind.

    6. William Bowe’s Bludger Track – a statistical model that used aggregated statewide opinion poll results to predict the outcomes of the House of Representatives elections – did extremely well in the 2013 election campaign. The model predicted the Coalition would win 90 seats and Labor would win 57. The actual results were 90 and 55. The model predicted a two-party preferred outcome of Coalition 53.5% to Labor 46.5%. The actual results were 53.4% to 46.6%. The model predicted primary votes of Coalition 44.3%, Labor 33.9%, Greens 9.4%, Others 12.4% The actual results were 45.5%, 33.4%, 8.6%, 12.4%. William Bowe’s success in Australia and Nate Silver’s success in the United States show that statistically sound analysis of aggregated poll results is a useful tool for predicting election outcomes. Interpreting individual poll results is a waste of time. Seat-specific polls, particularly robo-polls, proved unreliable in this year’s campaign. May the success of Bludger Track encourage pollsters to focus their resources on statewide surveys conducted by live interviewers. May the success of Bludger Track prompt more journalists to consult statisticians when reporting on poll results.

  10. The Abbott girls put Julie Bishop to shame at the Coalition launch today. They were charming and polished. Julie Bishop was a tough old harridan who told a crude joke. I didn't hang about for Abbott. All that Hope. I was overwhelmed.

    1. It's not some beauty contest within a political party being discussed here, it's an actual federal election.

  11. Anon I agree

    Julie Bishops jokes were like a nasty mean girl at a private- school..

    No wit with wisdom at all.

    Abbott's daughters were lovely but they're not like The Obama girls who are absolutely adorable and have a pretty cool Dad that's liked globally, unlike their daggy Dad Tony.

    It was such an American thing to watch with so much schmaltz attached to it..

    Not very Australian!!

    1. Lovely and charming daughters....??

      Seems an obnoxious pair to me like their father


  12. Andrew I agree 'support' for TA is soft but unfortunately people will have to tick a box and KR is not that desirable. It will be a case of who people dislike and distrust least. I am very afraid that the-votes-wihich-count are going to go with Abbott. Tony Windsor made brief reference to TA's stability on Australian Story last night. I think he is correct. He appears to be a very immature person and not an honest one. The media could well propel him into the Lodge both by propaganda and careless neglect. I believe some of the most ideological media elements will keep him in power. I am very concerned.

  13. Kelly o Dwyer and Shorten on Q and A tonight...

    Lively but respectful..

    Tim Wilson surprised me with that baby comment... lol!!

    So sad that the ugly and corrupt Murdoch u.k. press paparazzi stalk Mr Watson from the U.K.

    Disgusting and sad.

  14. Clive Palmer on Faine hung up mid interview.

    There have been domestic abuse claims with some of his candidates.

    Not nice at all but i think he has a vendetta against the l.n.p

    He's refreshing but crazy and will damage the l.n.p brand.

    The far right in Queensland are a real nut job variety that will be of grave concern on election night.

    Don't forget Cory Bernardi was Mr Abbotts right hand man.