03 June 2014

The guns of Singapore

The Liberal right is a victim of its own success. We have a rightwing Prime Minister, with rightwingers like Eric Abetz and Matthias Cormann and Kevin Andrews in leading roles within this government. People who have spent their working lives fighting for conservatism, like Bronwyn Bishop, hold high office and wield real power. The moderates are vanquished. But, so what? Their grip on power is slipping not because they've caved in, but because everything's gone their way and they didn't expect it.

In the late 1990s, the Coalition faced a challenge on its right flank from Pauline Hanson. Hanson threatened to build a permanent presence in Australian politics on the backs of Aborigines and newly-arrived non-white migrants, and maybe she would have if she'd been a more effective politician with some solid financial backing.

Since then, the threat to the Coalition from its right has been all but eliminated. Consider the parties that can get elected to the Senate on 2% or less of the vote, and wonder why the rabid anti-immigration parties can't manage the feat despite decades of experience. Even Labor has learnt to stop worrying and love indefinite, inhumane and inaccessible detention of non-white asylum-seekers, buying into the whole idea that such people take our jobs and clog our social infrastructure.

The Coalition had faced no significant threat from its left for more than two decades. This is why it is so comprehensively ambushed today.

Moderates drifted away, or learnt to accommodate issues that once disgusted them; those who remained had come so far in their careers that dropping out of politics altogether was harder than sucking it up and getting on with it.

The Labor Party has become less leftist, even though the Spectre Of Communism has shrunk to a historical artifact. There was the apology to the Stolen Generation and the chimera of action on climate change, but basically a party that supports mandatory detention and cuts benefits for single parents has pretty much accepted conservative assumptions - which includes a disinclination toward root-and-branch re-examination of one's position on things.

Australia's major corporations have a greater scope of influence over this government than any since the Lyons of the 1930s. Nobody (with the exception of leftist ratbags; but the generalisation stands) minds if the big companies make big money, so long as there is some left over to fend off grinding poverty and help smart kids from average backgrounds earn rewards for playing by the rules of meritocracy.

We need a government that brings the budget into balance in such a way that shows big corporations dependent on this country are doing their bit, and which provides positive incentives (e.g. smart kids from average backgrounds earning tangible rewards for playing by the rules of meritocracy).

I thought the previous government was doing that in its own unique way, but most people didn't. Never mind them - where will we get such a government, the government we need?

Will the incumbents change their minds? No. This is a brittle government, which will shatter rather than bend too far. See how it rewards time-servers. Those who jeer at the duds on the frontbench cannot deny that every one of those people has paid their dues, served their time and taken one for the team many, many times over several years.

Many have pet causes (e.g. Turnbull on the republic and climate, Andrews on abortion and divorce) which they have parked for the wider cause of power. The reason why they so hated Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, and why they despise Palmer now, is because they were less abstemious - pushing their causes and getting them through. The Abbott government is a victory for those who held the line and ignored the mockers and doubters.

The discipline (and attendant brittleness) necessary to turn what is essentially a rabble into a government is personified in Peta Credlin. When Palmer attacked Credlin, he was striking at the cold, calculating heart of this government, saying what Coalition MPs mutter under their breath but dare not voice. Palmer was stupid to use sexism, particularly going into Credlin's reproductive issues; he should've known better and should apologise for that.

That said, self-righteous press gallery dickheads like this should reconsider their own roles in simply quoting countless similar attacks on Gillard without the same sanction (but then, that wasn't 2014, was it) and overlooking Peter Dutton's own-goal of "nagger nagger" this very day on Jenny Macklin. But hey, it adds to Credlin's tough image, which in turn can be used to keep members of this government in line, no harm done and no lessons learnt.

The fight against sexism in our public discourse is vitally important - but the press gallery is no good at that either.

Will there be a Third Party led by Turnbull? No. Look how he peddles silly policy on telecommunications with aplomb, dismissing sound critiques and alternatives; this is not the way of a hand-wringing man of principle. As Gray Connolly correctly observes, Turnbull is a conservative. Even his (largely dormant) positions on climate change may be compared (unfavourably) with Churchill's stand against 1930s conservative appeasement of Nazi Germany.

The only hand-wringing going on is on the part of Liberals who want Turnbull's popularity, but who can't/won't countenance the far-reaching change necessary to remake the Liberal Party in his image: by the time you did away with climate denialism and bigotry-rightism, jacked up taxes and allowed same-sex marriage, there would hardly be a party to lead. Political parties can only do that sort of far-reaching change from opposition, and even then only once they've grown tired of being there.

Andrew Bolt wanted to harness Turnbull's popularity to Abbott's cause without conceding anything to him, so he gave him the sort of blast (no I won't link to it) that would wither any other member of this government. Turnbull, having weathered Beaufort-scale assaults from Kerry Packer and Margaret Thatcher, treated Bolt like the pissant that he is.

Bolt assumes that the government is strong enough to withstand any campaign that he might wage, and that it wouldn't play into the hands of Palmer, Labor, and others who would replace this government. His judgment and his standing isn't what it was. Bolt has already overreached with his foray into Melbourne radio and his push for vindication through amending the Racial Discrimination Act is losing ground. If Bolt pushes too hard and causes lasting damage to this government, his lack of power will be exposed and his fans in high office will start looking/feeling silly, as has happened with Alan Jones. Bolt's duff judgment and public weakness reflects that of the Liberal right more generally.

As for Scott Morrison, pfft. Remember that talk about how Peter Reith was positioning himself as an alternative successor to Howard? Rightwingers in his own seat will devour Morrison and he will, like Bob McNamara, recant on his life's work.

What about Clive Palmer? He is referred to on social media as Cliev, pre-empting the kind of disappointment that saw UK Labour refer to their most electorally successful leader as Bliar. He appears to have no political ballast that would keep him hewing to policies such as humane treatment of asylum-seekers or greater education funding. All his more appealing positions could evaporate overnight if Campbell Newman reached out to him. Still, so long as he keeps to the positions he has outlined so far, he is more the anti-Abbott than Shorten is.

This government came to office with a degree of distrust, like Malcolm Fraser's did in the 1970s. Don Chipp, an experienced Liberal, was a founding member of the Democrats that won the balance of power in the Senate. Chipp was initially less successful than Palmer is today because back then there was more:
  • residual loyalty to major parties;
  • distrust of populism; and
  • substantial moderate elements in the Liberal Party than there is now.
Fraser campaigned in opposition as hard as Abbott did in the same predicament. In government, however, Fraser steered his government toward the centre, maintaining generous education and welfare policies for the sake of social cohesion and the national interest as a whole.

Abbott has not steered his government toward the centre, slashing education and welfare policies under the assumption that they go against the national interest.

Palmer has attracted the working-class conservatives whom Liberal conservatives have steadily courted for a generation, at the expense of moderates. He has shown these voters to be every bit as unreliable for the Liberals as moderates were accused of being. Another one in the neck for conservatives building the rightist redoubt for the Liberal Party (and the Nationals, given that many of their seats are more vulnerable to Palmer/Windsor-type populists than to the ALP). People shrieking about Palmer's sexism were much less critical of Abbott's not-dissimilar remarks, and even defended "that man" after Gillard's misogyny speech, making you wonder what their real problem with Palmer is.

When Singapore was a British colony the British assumed it would be most likely to be attacked from the sea, and so they installed some of the world's biggest artillery pointing toward the sea. Singapore was invaded in 1942 - but from the north, which had also been a British colony, meaning that the sea-directed guns were useless when most needed. I named this post after those guns. See, it's an allegory. Allegory. Oh, never mind.

The case cannot yet be made that Abbott is wavering in his resolve to conservative causes, so the wreckers from the far right who tend to bring down Coalition governments (the pool-fence knuckleheads in mid-90s NSW, or Geoff Shaw in Victoria today) are silent and the moderates have lost their ability to fight and win. Shoring up the political ground to the right of the Coalition, a lifetime's work for those now running this government, is beside the point in the current political environment. For what doth it profit a man if he gaineth the whole world and retains his soul, but everything goes to pot anyway?

The fundamental failure of conservative political judgment is partly, but not entirely, Abbott's fault. Internally, he is safe. Externally, now that the threat to this government has manifested itself in ways the smarties failed to predict, nobody in this government knows quite what to do other than unite and keep making the same mistakes.


  1. Off topic, my almost 70 yo (Qld-er) Dad recently bought a copy of the Tele while staying at a van park in Northern Sydney to catch up on the league. He said the people in the paper shop openly laughed at him for buying it and asked him what he was going to do with it. This is a bloke who occasionally reads Andrew Bolt columns because he likes a stirrer so I doubt he came across as an unreconstructed leftist. @FearsumEngine

    1. If your implying Andrew Bolt is a mere stirrer , I think you are naive he is a facist wanker through and through. That has somehow managed to convinced people like Brandis to put their balls on the line and was part of the cheersquad that put this totalitarian nightmare into government . He is not to be underestimated or rather his sentiment or people with the same ideals should not just be disregarded as an irritant .
      Your free to read mein kampf if you want as well. But dont be suprised when people laugh at you for it.

    2. They're all fluffy fascists with chips on their shoulders at the I.P.A. ...except a couple

      I went to University with a liberal ten year's ago and he was reading Mein Kampf....I'm not kidding and he was quite serious about its contents.


      The real question to be asked is this

      To understand Bolt et al you must deconstruct them firstly.

      Family and life experiences within a sociological context.

  2. Not only invaded from the north, but by an army riding bicycles, which might fit the allegory too.

  3. Take a bow Andrew!

    Bolt was lambasted on The Roast tonight and it was hilarious.

    Malcolm Turnball has also criticized
    John Roskam in the A.F.R about their
    ill informed views. I.P.A seem like the ugly and nasty cousins no one wants
    to play with anymore

    See Saturday Paper and faceless men article....

    They really denigrate Melbourne's reputation and should move elsewhere.

    It's silly why Greens voters who like Mr Turnball can't see him for who he really is.

    Laura Tingle's analysis of his past behaviour was a nice reminder of the stark reality of the real Mr Turnball.

    The hard right wing stance is quite scary for many moderates and those who knew what was coming ...

    I'm saddened that the most disadvantaged will suffer and as a society we will all be affected by the growing divide between the elites and the masses.

    It's interesting to see how our p.m looks with Mr Obama and what they will have to say to one another.

  4. The Liberal right is a victim of its own success...in concealing its true nature and deepest wishes. As well, the LNP has form. When last in office, the Liberals conjured up Work Choices to the shocked disbelief of a generally trusting electorate; and this time they've come up with No Choices, a wholesale assault on personal well-being, social mobility, productivity, economic reward and opportunity.

    The refrain should be.. "Incomes will always be lower and lies greater under a Liberal Government."

  5. My goodness Andrew you are almost as prolific as Mme D Parker @ the Pond de Loon. And thank you once again for your efforts. I enjoy reading your analyses which are stimulating.

    I think TA's political judgement failures stem from character. He seems to be a person who needs to be in a state of competitive opposition, even with himself when he takes on Iron Man events etc.

    He now appears to be opposed to the people he leads. Australians are constantly being chided, hectored and insulted. We are slackers. We are parasites. We are too selfish. And what's more our leader implied we were too stupid to take his promises at face value.

    It seems to me that this government's obsession with making itself smaller and smaller can only lead to impotency. We will be left with the terrible rictus grin of the Cheshire Cat.

    Ms Yossarian

    1. The recent protests of far right groups in Australia like Golden Dawn should elicit a strong response from this
      conservative government.

      Mr Brandis words have come back to haunt him with neo-nazi groups.

      It's o.k to be a bigot!

      It sure is in this country by allowing these people in.

  6. Actually, the guns at Singapore could point north, but they only had anti-ship ammunition. The allegory stands, but needs a little tweaking.

  7. Wonderfully apposite and wise, Andrew. Pushing the Overton window so far to the right means that they have nothing to hang on to when defenestrated.

  8. Thanks for another excellent piece. I totally agree re Turnbull: how anyone can respect him after his performance in communications is beyond me. I don't think he has much chance of persuading his colleagues to give him another go anyway, but his chances would be better from a principled position on the backbenches IMHO.

  9. "As for Scott Morrison, pfft."

    Couldn't agree more.

  10. I got no time or sympathy for Credlin. As I recall there was a simpering Credlin and Abbott while in Opposition taking breathlessly about him allowing her to keep her frozen embryos in his parliamentary fridge, so supportive of women he was. Oh the humanity!

    If they can use it to prop up Tony, the same sexism can be used to criticize them.

  11. Cardboard Brown4/6/14 2:22 pm

    I keep hearing people say that the Abbott government is trying to turn us into the USA, but from what I've read, he seems to be trying to turn us into Canada, another seemingly liberal/ progressive country that has been wrenched to the right. They certainly seem to be either following their lead, or singing from the same hymn book:-
    Despite the bastardry and associated assclowns in the conservative party, the Harper government doesn't seem to be on the nose. I haven't read any commentary on Aus / Canadian parallels, except that abbott and Harper get on very well together.

  12. There's another thing going on here I think, Andrew, though I could be wrong.

    Before the election, even leftists like myself were thinking, "Oh well, he'll be more reasonable when forced to be a statesman". As if somehow his past could disappear.

    I don't hold it against the man at all; he can go and be an ex-seminarian, socially-limited, masculine-yet-threatened-by-homosexuality kinda guy as much as he wants.

    But running the country? I really think there was a section of the electorate which thought, "He'll change."

    He can't - which I think is why his hard-right admirers like the increasingly comical Sheridan support him so openly. He is, indeed, a man of principle.

    And, perhaps, behind all the slogans, he thought he'd made that pretty clear in the last campaign. Your own posts make a decent case for suggesting he had.

    I just don't happen to share many of his principles. What happens to him next as he 'boxes on', so to speak, will be interesting.

  13. 'Oh, never mind.'

    I wonder who you're speaking to there Andrew.

  14. Andrew,
    Your link to Bob Denmore's excellent website The Failed Estate, is not current, because he has moved it. The new site is:

  15. Lachlan Ridge5/6/14 1:35 am

    Interesting that you identify the capture of the ALP by neo-liberalism.

    When I was in the ALP at a relatively senior level in the eighties, the NSW Right crowed about their success in marginal seats. This primarily revolved around presenting both the Hawke Government and candidates as being 'as good as' the Libs. Doofi such as Michael Lee and Garry Punch spring to mind immediately, but there were others, mostly embodied in NSW by the Terrigals faction that has provided so much schadenfreude at ICAC. Their success is embodied in how much their neoliberalism has captured Albo's "left" (ho ho) faction. Ian Macdonald is the obvious example, but there are others, such as Meredith Burgmann, that have lined up behind corporations against citizens. Albo was part of the cabinet that stripped entitlements from single mums. I don't recall that great warrior for the working class resigning over it. But then, as Andrew Ferguson pointed out, policy was never his strong suit.

    So the successes of the right (small r) are evident in the ALP's embrace of neo-liberalism from the Accord onwards, which has seen household share of national wealth stagnate (and in relative terms decline), while household debt has gone off the radar and is higher than a stockbroker on Friday night.

    Which might be a clue as to why Hockey's debt mantra BS rings true to so many people under mortgage stress.

    Palmer looks good because he has outflanked the Liberals on the centre. What will be interesting is what he does with his preferences. I feel he may do to the Libs what the DLP did to the ALP way back when, make it acceptable for populist right-wingers to preference the ALP.

    In that regard he may run the ALP's marginal seat campaign for them, which is just as well, because it's not as if Jamie Clements has a clue.

    Anyway, as the Chinese curse says, interesting times.

    1. I do like the Andrew/Lachlan double act - it's like having binocular vision.

    2. A great and perceptive column. And I agree with Lachlan absolutely. I joined Young Labor in 1965 and resigned when rightist Hawke became leader. Hawke-Keating abandoned what Labor had stood for and followed a rightist agenda - described by one friend as "Thatcherism with a human face". This destroyed Labor's credentials as a reformist party and made it possible for the Liberals to drift further to the extreme right, There was nothing, NOTHING, that Howard did in office that did not have a precedent in the Hawke-Keating era. We now have a choice between a traditional Liberal Party (masquerading as a Labor Party) or the policies of a zealot IPA (masquerading as a Liberal Party) with possibly the weakest and most intellectually challenged front bench in Australia's political history. Australians did not want economic rationalism but we got it anyway. Neither party has any clear vision for the future, and neither party is especially interested in the Australian public or their interests. Where do we go from here?

  16. I look forward to reading your comments on the Peking Duck-Caramel Banana tryst and its aftermath.

    Ms Yossarian

  17. Why this crap about war - at a time when actual armed conflict is literally tearing apart real people and countries, isn't it more than a bit silly to portray a bit of banter between, say, Christine Milne and Eric Abetz as 'war'? (A comment by Andrew Elder on Michael Gordon’s scribbling).

    Andrew says in his latest piece: When Singapore was a British colony the British assumed it would be most likely to be attacked from the sea, and so they installed some of the world's biggest artillery pointing toward the sea. Singapore was invaded in 1942 - but from the north, which had also been a British colony, meaning that the sea-directed guns were useless when most needed. I named this post after those guns. See, it's an allegory. Allegory. Oh, never mind.

    Aren’t bodies still being ripped apart by conflict? Is it wise to use war as an allegory if you have criticised another person for doing the same?


    1. Kabs, the conservatives who drove liberals out of the Liberal Party have used this language, and they have sown what they have reaped.

    2. It would please the old far right Anglo crowd that are deluded into thinking they're Gods.

      Weirdness prevails.

  18. Anti-intellectualism.

    Reading Menzies House is worse than watching the Bolt report.

    One needs a stiff drink to calm over the stupidity of such shallow propaganda

    1. Watching this bromance between Mr Frydenberg and Mr Husic on Q and A seems weird in our nasty toxic culture.

      Both are products of very successful Multicultural policies yet the government wants Freedoms to be able to vilify them as well.

      One is Jewish and the other is

      Dipshit mentality with Brandis et al..

      Weirdness prevails again