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