05 October 2013

Left right out

In Shakespeare's Henry V, an immature and destructive young man unaccountably destined for high office hangs out with riff-raff who encourage him in his immaturity. Upon assuming leadership he sobers up and wins a famous victory against a larger but disorganised enemy. In the course of that he leaves behind his old mates, who end up wretched and dead in the hour of his triumph.

Something similar is happening to the far right of the NSW Liberals. The ascent of Tony Abbott represents everything they hoped and worked for over a generation, but he owes them nothing. They are bitter because they put all their eggs in his basket, and now he's taken that basket and shared the spoils with everyone but them.

This is the story that ABC superjournalist Matt Peacock has missed not once, but twice.

I met John Ruddick when I was a Young Liberal branch president in 1992-3. The party's head office referred him to me as a prospective member and we met in a pub. He was living at Moore College but denied that he was studying toward Anglican ministry (turned out that he had been, but was in the process of unwinding his commitments; the truth would have been more interesting than the blow to his ego that came from looking irresolute, but that's John for ya). He made his own way into the Young Libs and realised before I did that the moderate ascendancy in NSW could not survive the coming of Howard. He was personable unless you disagreed with him, had your facts together and stuck to your guns without getting emotional, whereupon he would become dull company.

The reason why his service and loyalty to the Liberal Party has not been rewarded is because, while he is a smart guy, he only operates well where others aren't as smart as he is; thus his devotion to the dopier, more extreme rightwingers (and they to him). In party backrooms he was either boorish or snivelling, lacking the peer relationships and basic respect necessary for cutting deals. He was amazed when people saw through tactics like his overuse of your given name when he speaks to you, for example.

He told me that the moderates would never support me and that I should come across to the right, where the power was. He was right about the former but wrong about the latter, and we each considered the other weak for having chosen the wrong side. At a time of increased factionalism in the NSW Young Libs I would say hello to John and he would snarl at me, and we haven't kept in touch. By the time his side came through I didn't even care. Years later, at the 2007 APEC leaders' meeting in Sydney, he made a right git of himself with placards venerating President Bush and yelling abuse at those insufficiently enthusiastic about all things American.

John fell in with Christianists* like David Clarke and Ross Cameron. When the Howard government took office in 1996, Cameron became Federal MP for Parramatta and Ruddick joined his staff (this is easily checkable, but note how Peacock presents them as just two guys who just happen to agree with one another). Few moderates got staffer jobs in that government. Eventually Ruddick fancied his chances in business, and rightly recognised that he couldn't build a political career from staffer jobs, so he left Cameron's office and was replaced by the far more capable and assiduous Alex Hawke.

In Parliament Cameron followed Tony Abbott around like a puppy. Tony was the big brother Ross never had, and Ross the annoying little brother Tony never had or wanted. When Cameron's political career failed in 2004 nobody took him on as an advisor or a lobbyist, including Abbott, despite other ex-MPs being warehoused in that manner. Cameron went to Macquarie Bank and achieved precisely bugger-all: he had been Assistant Treasurer (he was succeeded in that job by Peter Dutton, who is in Cabinet today), when Macquarie was at the height of its pre-GFC powers. He crawled out of the Defects skip at the Millionaire's Factory in order to produce crap like this**, which is to good writing and service to the nation what burnouts are to automotive excellence.

In the 1980s Ross Cameron had worked for NSW Transport Minister Bruce Baird. Baird held the NSW parliamentary seat that Cameron's father once held. Baird's chief of staff was Barry O'Farrell, who is in a position to offer his erstwhile colleague a job but hasn't yet. Baird's daughter Julia sometimes hosts ABC TV's The Drum, which sometimes slings Cameron the taxi fare to and from the studio. Mark Scott, now Managing Director of the ABC, worked in another Greiner government ministerial office while Cameron was there.

Prime Minister Abbott has clearly been too busy to call his old mate Ross (if he had offered Ross a job, we'd know all about it): what with putting together a new government, and do they even have telephones in Jakarta? You know how it is.

There is an old saying in politics that applies to successful governments, particularly to those that are newly elected and united: those who know don't talk and those who talk don't know. Ross Cameron talks a lot.

Ruddick, Cameron, Fierravanti-Wells et al are from that part of the Liberal Party that most disdain the ABC. That talk about the national broadcaster as a nest of lefties comes most strongly from and appeals most strongly to them. Quite why Matt Peacock gave these guys the time of day, let alone representing them as political cleanskins, is unclear. Quite why the ABC takes on Cameron or other erstwhile ABC critics like Peter Reith or Amanda Vanstone so enthusiastically is unclear too. This isn't balance, it's a lack of institutional self-respect. Like the sex worker happy to take the coin of the morals crusader indulging a secret vice, it's possible to overestimate your own cleverness in dealing with those who just hate you and want you gone.

In the lead-up to the 1999 NSW election I was a Liberal preselector for Manly. There were a number of candidates, and I guessed (rightly) that the one I knew wouldn't make it. I rang Joe Francis, who was then working for the Federal MP whose eklectorate included Manly. "Mate", he said, "if a pigeon shits on The Corso, I'll know about it". I asked the obvious question, about who was likely to win the preselection and why, and he became vague. I asked him about the branches in the area and he stumbled again. Joe plays dumb very, very convincingly.

When I found out he'd become a state MP in WA I read his inaugural speech. He pays tribute to Ruddick directly and indirectly - the Joey Francis I knew had never read a book in his life, let alone Hayek. You can bet all that small government stuff has melted away with the responsibilities of office, with the realisation that being carried fiscally by the rest of the nation is a pretty sweet arrangement.

Meanwhile, back in NSW, Liberal Senator Marise Payne, who started out as a moderate, had actually developed a long-term and wide-ranging strategy for expanding the Liberal vote in western Sydney. Cameron and Ruddick and Clarke had been wedging clowns like Jaymes Diaz into winnable seats, because they could. The right got in the way of Payne's plan without offering a superior alternative (like Abbott's unrelenting opposition to Julia Gillard, but without the success). At the election last month two things became clear: the extent of Payne's planning and effort, and the extent to which the Christianist right had stuffed it up.

Abbott needed to be a leader for the whole Liberal Party, not just the Christianist right, and here was his chance. He rewarded Payne with a ministry (had the Senator been Martin Payne, he may well be in Cabinet). Abbott dropped NSW Liberal right stalwart, and Ruddick-Cameron mate, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells to a lesser portfolio than she would have hoped or expected. He wouldn't have done that if Fierravanti-Wells was powerful or if she had contributed greatly in net terms to Abbott's victory. When we're down we all hope for redemption, but in Fierravanti-Wells' case she is more likely to be leapfrogged not only by her old rival Payne, but by younger people like Kelly O'Dwyer or Little Jimmy Briggs - or even ideological fellow-traveller Cory Bernardi.

David Clarke had been a solicitor in his own practice and an influential powerbroker in the NSW Liberals for many years. Lawyers sneer at the sort of lawyer Clarke was; "ambulance chaser" is a cruel thing to say about anyone. Yet, for such lawyers to maintain their business, and keep clients going through emptionally and financially draining legal actions is to stoke a sense of hurt and grievance, and keep it going for years. Clarke is very good at this.

The victim mentality you see in Ruddick and Cameron within Peacock's reporting comes from Clarke. Clarke cultivated religious communities on Sydney's western fringe, telling them that they were persecuted by inner-city secularists and homosexuals and that he would be their champion if only they would join the Liberal Party en masse - he would pay the membership fees, and no input would be required of the members other than to turn up and vote. People who have surrendered their attachments to the outside world and who do what they're told are the best branch-stack fodder there is. Both Ruddick and Cameron know their Bible and can talk the talk to such people. Sophie Mirabella should put her adventures in Kelly country behind her and join John and Ross and the gang.

In the 1970s Clarke cultivated Croatian migrants, claiming that he shared their anti-communism (Serbs were disproportionately in control of communist Yugoslavia). Most Croatian migrants have made a great contribution to Australia but Clarke courted those from the fringe of that community. Again: no input required, not even any money; just loyalty both ways, a relationship in which openness and transparency plays little role. Without having hacked it, I wouldn't be surprised if Clarke has a bigger ASIO file than many self-aggrandising old student leftists.

Just because Ruddick talks about transparency and accountability doesn't mean he will or even can deliver it. All political outsiders talk about those things. You can criticise Rudd and Gillard for lacking accountability and transparency, but despite his words electing Abbott to replace them will do little to improve those matters. The Liberal right work best when they're secretive and dismissive of challenges; their record in creating open and transparent environments isn't great. Look at Ruddick's job: he's a mortgage broker, a job involving subjective judgments and secrecy. He's simply not going to create, or thrive in, an environment where his every move is second-guessed.

Look at another of their good mates, unaccountably left out of Peacock's stories: Peter Phelps. Despite a lifetime in politics he fails to understand that very few opponents of Pinochet were really seeking to build a similar tyranny; most sought to be free of tyranny altogether. As someone who's never been in business, he failed to understand that arbitrary arrest and execution impact negatively on the economy. It takes more "moral courage" to face reality than to poke a stick at leftist drones, real or imagined . Ruddick's political judgment and commitment to transparency is scarcely greater than Phelps, but only due to Ruddick's lack of what Phelps would call 'moral courage'.

It is true that the Liberal Party has been taken over by rent-seekers. I saw that in the 1990s, and did what little I could to turn it around; it didn't work and so I left. Since I left the Liberal Party my life has gone from strength to strength, and I note the party's success at local, state, and federal level: talk about a win-win situation. The Christianist right were the first to bid good riddance to me and other moderates (the moderates who stayed and gave up their moderation did too, but they don't get it either). Now the Christianist right are so lacking in understanding and humility that they cannot cope with being on the outer in their own party, bleating about transparency just like the moderates did in the '90s.

Tony Abbott is the sort of Liberal Leader and Prime Minister that the Christianist right had not only dreamed of, but spent a generation working to bring about. Now he's left them with nothing, and it's too late for them to start again. When Abbott starts to fade he will turn to them again and they will rally, because they have no choice. Such a prospect is a poor base on which to build whole careers in politics; but this is where the Christianist right have positioned themselves. With the carry-on in Washington over the budget they are unlikely to draw comfort and tactics from abroad.

Openness and transparency from John Ruddick and the Christianist right? Yeah, right.

* Yes, like Islamists - people who claim to profess a religion but who disdain core aspects of it relating to gentleness, humility, and tolerance.

** Thank you @AequoEtBono


  1. Very interesting.
    You should also investigate the actions of this young factional warrior Alex Dore. http://www.smh.com.au/national/tertiary-education/club-no-stranger-to-scraps-as-party-factions-vie-for-influence-20121001-26vl8.html

    Alex Dore is trying to stack Manly under instruction from Alex Hawke. Right in Abbotts backyard.

  2. More substance in this or any of your pieces than anything by Peacock et al. Dunno how you keep it up.

  3. This is an interesting insight into Liberal factionalism, which is clearly just as horrible as in the ALP. What gets me most is the sheer arrogance - thinking its ok to foist stupid candidates on the electorate and then dare to talk about merit. Ah democracy.

    1. Yes, as someone living in on one those electorates, I'm more than glad that effort backfired. At least Jaymes Diaz can rest easy, after the Indonesians shut down any boat-turning plans this week, in not bothering to learn all of the 6-points.

  4. Given that Matt Peacock is no fool I would assume that the way he presented the story was the only way to get it past the ABC's Murdocratic management. Once the story was launched there was at least some chance that people like yourself could flesh it out a bit in a way he would never be allowed to do.

  5. I hadn't realized that the code of silence applied to Liberal party members as well as MPs. Interesting too that Joe Francis has described the possible five-year suspension of John Ruddick for a 10 second appearance on 7.30 without permission as being a punishment more likely carried out in North Korea. The Libs are always trumpeting the importance of free speech. So far after less than a month in office all MPs have been gagged apart from Scott Morrison who has been freed up to tell us untruths about asylum seekers. The media seems to be going along with it too.

  6. Andrew...

    Fringe elements of migrant communities always end up in politics not just within the Croatian diaspora

    Thank you kindly for making that point.

    Go and watch Tsiolkas ' The Slap.

    It was based on the background of Greek Liberals.

    Furthermore when Mr Sinodinos talks about his mothers experience with communism in Greece...take it with a grain of salt....;)




    1. http://neoskosmos.com/news/en/the-arthur-sinodinos-way

      Article on his heritage...

      More P.R ethnic spin!!

  7. Lol!!

    This blog amazes me every time i read it.

    The networks and all the connections within our media/ political class is disturbing yet quite revealing.

    What information do you know Andrew that you would care not to disclose...???

    Hmmm..i wonder??

    Love our shallow form of democracy!!


  8. I can see that photo when Mr Abbott meets Obama for the first time.

    Those pesky little liberal fascists ten years ago would have bullied people like him at University and now their leader has to be" nice" to him.

    I seem to recall the N.S.W liberals or the Queensland branch calling him a " monkey...

    Charming isn't it??

    I will watch Mr Abbott's body language with Obama carefully...

    It is very revealing.

    Cheers mate!!

  9. Guilt by association with Cory Bernardi..

    He is the conservative creep..

    He is a sad man and should join the tea party in the U.S.A

    Disgusting idiot.

    I was perplexed why Tim Wilson didn't refute his comments on Sky News when they came out but to Tim's credit ...why respond to nutjobs.

    As a gay right wing gen y...will watch Tim's response to this whole marriage equality issue within the political class and the media.

    Gay kids have a very high suicide rate in Australia.

    It's pathetic the arguments are so anti-intellectual and hollow.

    Neil Mitchell at 3aw in Melbourne has conducted a joint broadcast with Joy Fm in Melbourne supporting Marriage Equality..

    But hey.. Melbournians are a cool bunch of people unlike those Sydney shock jocks!!



  10. The faceless men of the Liberal Party.

    Thanks again Andrew.

  11. Marco Rubio comes to mind when i see comparisons of the next generation of Liberal party hacks here.

    As a child of migrant political exiles from Castro's regime..that extremist conservatism is evident with his views on marriage equality.

    As a v.p presidential candidate for the Republican party in the U.S.A he is one to watch!!

    Those ridiculous conservative ideas are passed from one generation to the next and there lies the malaise.

    Those conservative American ideas are slowly being infiltrated here with cashed up lobbyists..

    Kinda scary and despicable !!

    Stop the Americanisation of our politics now!!


  12. Andrew,
    This is all very interesting, but more interesting for me is the question, why isn't Abbott sucking up the NSW right in the Liberal Party, who is he allied with, if not them?

    1. I think i know...

      They are corrupt as hell and the public remember all those dirty allegations

      Does he really need them now as a p.m??? What for exactly??

      Excuse my ignorance here but
      as the top dog....he is a tosser and as this blog entry states, has left many people behind!!


      Ciao Andrew. ;)

    2. He's doing the most dangerous thing you can do in politics - leaving his base behind .,..

  13. ....Now he's left them with nothin...

    Tosser Inc Pty Ltd.

    Thanks Andrew...a great insight into the mentality of our esteemed leaders.

    Btw Alex Law...ritten egg mate.

    I will have to respectfully disagree with your assesment of this young man.

    That disturbing youtube video of him at the Sydney Liberal branch calling the police on a female newcomer that dared to dispute him.

    Ugly factions at play here via social networking.

    1. Alex Hawke...error not Alex Law.

      Baulkham Hills Branch in N.S.W to be exact on Youtube...

      Charming stuff!!

  14. I have consoled myself with the views of some commentators that Tony Abbott is not as right-wing as some fear. I think I have been wrong to do so. I think I should have stuck with my own disturbing thoughts about TA. I think he is a warrior competitor and he will approach everything if there is a prize to be won. How else can one interpret his crude comment about a possible free trade agreement with China. A difficult one for us. Not for TA. Australia will take what it can get, he said. Why? So TA can put an FTO with China on his trophy shelf. I don't know what he stands for apart from winning and he will accommodate himself to anyone or anything to achieve victory.

    1. Anon

      People evolve with their job and as an opp leader he will havel met people from diverse backgrounds.

      The problem lies here...

      They should be well rounded and smart global citizens especially in foreign affairs before they go into parliament.

      Look at the idiotic backflip of Paul Howes and his statements in the press of late.

      We did it for political expediency blah blah blah

      What an idiot...really!
      How can you take him seriously

      I wonder what Jason Yat Sen Li would do in Abbotts position??

      Looking far into the looking glass but i predict this dark horse will be a household name and is a consumate professional with great diplomatic skills.

    2. Yep....

      The Liberals will have to think for themselves and get creative...

      Can't steal from the American right...it looks utterly stupid

      Obama looks very smart and credible amongst all this crap

      What amuses me is that religious senators are praying for a miracle and conducting sermon type responses !

      God help the American government.

  15. No input but loyalty from attracting migrants...

    BINGO!! Sophie Mirabella

    Nasty Greek woman with ethnic chip on her shoulder

    #fail 101

    Don't do that again Liberals

  16. Andrew...

    They have drawn on the tactics of those abroad...tea party style and all!!

    It's on record and they can't deny it.

    The disgusting rhetoric of bestiality towards gays was the extreme end of the conservative right that Bernardi adopted...including the set up of that idiotic Menzies House website.


    Uh...the folks are dumb where i come from right wing

    The horse has bolted Andrew...

  17. Immature and destructive...

    Aka: The dregs of the middle class and society

    Politics Australian Style is playing hard according to our new p.m

    No not really ...it's your corrupt ethos that has resulted in this nasty culture

    Obama doesnt resort to that idiocy and he us widely regarded globally

    No wonder Mr Putin snubbed you at A.P.E.C ...he has class!!

  18. The real question to be asked is....

    Where do you fit in all this as a Liberal Andrew??

    Are you part of those far right bogan liberal idiots??

    I sincerely hope not!!!


    1. I haven't been a Liberal for more than a dozen years.

    2. Bless you and great to see you in a healthy state of mind.

      Nice career move for you and your family...

      Your children will thank you for it i'm sure one day



    3. Who could be anything these days with a sense of belonging, to put it clumsily. I have just been reading Tim Dunlop at King's Tribune about the media's continued devotion to TA. I could have written that piece myself for I am in lockstep with Dunlop. TA goes to Jakarta to backpedal on asylum seeker policy and eat humble pie and is hailed as a statesman by the media here. He gags his ministers and is hailed as a brilliant strategist by the media here. I know this is happening. I know the Murdoch press are biased but why is the rest of the media so craven, Andrew? Is it the hive mind at work. I love that term. Says so much. What is going on? Why does that shallow man beguile? Are they fascinated by his flirtation with the priesthood? Have they been fooled into thinking he is a deep thinker? Chauncey Gardener comes to mind.

    4. Azrael the Cat18/11/13 8:45 pm

      Yeah because individuals declaring their tribal allegiance is what REALLY makes a difference.

    5. Azrael, it shows that "openness campaigners" are really "openness spruikers"

  19. VoterBentleigh10/10/13 10:12 am

    I'm sorry, but I cannot thank you for providing the link to read Joe Francis' inaugural speech to the WA Parliament. I have written a reminder for 2050 to see if the prediction that Perth will overtake Sydney as the financial centre and premier city of Australia eventuates (I'm looking forward to a chuckle). I nearly stopped reading after that sentence about Qatar and Dubai, but ploughed on and was finally rewarded with Boetcker's “ten cannots”. It just confirms my belief that that the biblical prediction that the meek will inherit the earth is a con to make us all submissive. However, not being an afficiando of Boetcker, I informed myself a little about him and discovered his “seven national crimes”: I don't think; I don't care; I don't know; I am too busy; I leave well enough alone; I have no time to read and find out and I am not interested. Now Joe should send that list to the Prime Minister, who has often displayed those features.

  20. VoterBentleigh10/10/13 10:23 am

    And I'm not only not an "aficionado" of Boetcker, but I can't spell either. Sorry about the errors!

  21. We need intellectuals around the world who are conservative to say he isn't part of that elusive club...

    He is shallow and pretentious.

    Arriana Huffington needs to come to Australia and denigrate our media.

    She has been married to a wealthy republican so they can't call her a communist or leftie!!


  22. Andrew...

    Miss Janet( aka Kroger) Albrechtsen's article in The Australian on the N.S.W liberal party is a must read

    The Star Chamber has begun...


    Hipster Libretarian Melbourne.