And for one crowded hour, you were the only one in the roomTraditional media reviews the performance of a new government at the hundred-day mark, and at the first anniversary of its taking office. The hundred-day reviews of the Abbott government catalogued how petty and nasty it was, overlooking the inconvenient truth of the gap between what it said it would do and what it actually is doing. It's too early for the anniversary, but bugger it, let's have the review anyway in light of current circumstances.
And I sailed around all those bumps in the night to your beacon in the gloom
I thought I had found my golden September in the middle of that purple June
But one crowded hour would lead to my wreck and ruin
- Augie March One crowded hour
The Abbott government was elected in order to:
- Can the carbon pricing mechanism as its first order of business
- Can the mining tax too
- Stop asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat
- Run everything else pretty much as the Gillard and Rudd governments said they were going to, but with a bit of political stability
Since last September the Abbott government has:
- Finally abolished the carbon pricing mechanism, but with a lot of palaver and no credit for having done so
- The mining tax still in place (consider this: the persuasive skills of this government are so bad that they can't even persuade a mining billionaire, who campaigned against the mining tax, to abolish it. It's supposedly a massive impost on our economy, yet ten months later its abolition simply fell off the legislative agenda)
- Still dealing with asylum-seekers coming to Australia by boat, and there's no commentary about on-water matters until there is, and while Morrison is a minister in disarray the press gallery yearn to hear from him
- Botched everything else - education funding, interference in the national broadcasters, welfare, health, has been trashed to the point where you're entitled to believe everything this government says is bullshit; and last but not least
- Suddenly become destabilised. Unlike under the Gillard government, the press gallery is not implying that leadership tensions within the government are at fever pitch and that any moment now, the PM is going to be rolled. This means the government is stable, right? According to Madonna King, the leadership tensions of December 2009 have not been fully resolved, with Hockey, Turnbull and Abbott at weapons drawn like the warehouse scene from Reservoir Dogs. The press gallery had a) no idea about this LIBERAL SPLIT SHOCK or b) covered it up, before King embarrassed them for the higher cause of
telling the truth about how we are governedplugging her book.
Since the fall of the Fraser government, the Coalition has stuffed its foreign policy with warmed-over US Republican suspicion of the United Nations. Certainly this government's disdain for UN refugee protocols, and its contempt for Rudd's quest for a Security Council seat, is a matter of record. Yet, the government was right to recognise MH17 as a problem requiring concerted international action through established forums; it dispatched Julie Bishop to New York without stating up front exactly what she was supposed to achieve by going there, a breach of its standard practice. This meant anything she did achieve was a bonus.
Bishop got all the credit for that motion before the Security Council from pretty much all of the press gallery. Little credit was given to Australia's permanent legation at the UN, and you had to go to foreign news sites to see the significant input from Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. One day the whole, nuanced tale might come to light, but for the moment it is jarring when the Dutch and others make the big decisions that flow from what, apparently, was an Aussie diplomatic triumph. So much for the first draft of history.
The press gallery has been deaf to the shifting global power relations evident in responses to this incident. Do the press gallery, and the traditional media outlets that employ them (for the moment) not realise that Australians can access foreign news sources?
Bishop couldn't even credit Rudd, Gillard, and Bob Carr for having put Australia onto the Security Council, and apparently she is denying a DFAT briefing to the Opposition (how she howled when she was in the post Plibersek occupies today). The woman who ran down the clock on people dying from asbestos-related diseases is now bending over backwards for victims of a much more abrupt act of negligence. For all her flaws, this could well be her finest moment.
Putin has been a world leader for as long as Abbott and Bishop have been frontbenchers in Australian politics - there are no examples where Putin has caved to world opinion, and Abbott won't and can't change that. People like Campbell Newman or Joe Hockey insisting that Putin might not be welcome at the G20 in Brisbane later this year has the potential to more than negate Bishop's diplomatic achievement.
Russia does not have the ability to project power beyond its borders that the Soviet Union did. In Georgia and Ingushetia we have seen that Putin relies on bands of thugs, with Kalashnikovs in one hand and vodka bottles in the other, roaming around making the territory ungovernable but in some vague way 'loyal' to Moscow. This is how Russia denied an intact Yugoslavia to the West, by arming marauding Serbs and reducing other players in the Balkans to their level. This is what he's doing in eastern Ukraine: given what we know now the shooting down of MH17 makes no sense geopolitically, but only as a horrible error. The audio evidence from intercepted communications, and the sheepishness by the Russian government, point to that conclusion. Abbott was dumb to paint Putin into a corner, this piece was a little too cute in ignoring Abbott, and The Daily Telegraph dumber still for making it appear that Abbott forced concessions from Putin.
All that said, the idea of Tony Abbott being competent and dignified is pretty surprising, and without seeking to verbal him Tim Dunlop takes a similar position.
Imagine there was a vicious dog living in your street, and that pretty much every time you and your neighbours went past it the dog reared up and barked menacingly. Imagine your entreaties to the owners were met with abuse, or jeers at your powerlessness. Now imagine walking by that house and, instead of barking, the dog began singing Donna e mobile pitch-perfect and enunciated beautifully - this is what it's like watching random acts of competence from the Abbott government.
Commentators are expected to have a response to every situation, but sometimes slack-jawed mute amazement is most eloquent.
After the amazement comes one of two reactions: either embracing the new situation, or a retreat into denial. However much I disagree with the findings of so-called "9-11 truthers", I have some sympathy with their inability to credit disaffected Arabs with such an event and their insistence on bigger targets like the Rothschilds or the CIA. However, as I said earlier, Abbott killed his golden moment with overreach.
The idea of sending armed federal police into a conflict zone was dumb, though understandable given the Dutch army's role in Srebrenica. It should have snapped the press gallery out of its "universally agreed" praise and support for Abbott, and reminded even its most consistently worthwhile correspondent that it too can be guilty of overreach:
Death and tragedy reset the national political conversation.Tingle refers to the all-too-brief lull following the death of John Gillard and the low "died of shame" attacks from Alan Jones, Joe Hockey, and Tony Abbott against his daughter. Does this mean Australian politics - and the reporting thereof - will sink to a new low over coming days?
There is a restraint in what issues journalists ask questions about. A sudden observance of appropriateness rules.Not really. Tingle's press gallery colleagues speculate whether MH17 (and the unqualified press gallery praise for Abbott's response) will give Abbott a "poll bounce", even while the dead passengers remain unburied. This is ghoulishly indecent and reflects poorly on all members of the gallery, and their editors, lowering their behaviour to that of the Murdoch journalist who rifled through passenger luggage spread across the steppes because they just can't help it. It negates whatever propriety Abbott and Bishop showed in the hours after the incident.
So whatever else is said about MH17, it stopped the noise generated by the Senate and Clive Palmer in its tracks.It just did the same thing in a different form. The "noise generated by the Senate and Clive Palmer" was all about applying pressure to implement the government's agenda, to save an already failing government from itself. By contrast, the unstinting praise surrounding Abbott's initial response to MH17 was all about applying pressure to implement the government's agenda, to save an already failing government from itself.
Context is also playing a grotesque game with the portrait of Joe Hockey painted in Madonna King’s new book Hockey: Not Your Average Joe.See above - the idea that this government, for all its shortcomings, presents a unified front is no longer true, and given the effect that polls have in Canberra the centripetal pressures on this government will only increase. Abbott, Hockey, and Turnbull are each diminished. None has any real incentive to pull together for any cause wider than themselves. Ten months after it was elected to supposedly address a budget emergency, no budget has been passed, and even the crisis has evaporated.
Tingle goes on to describe a critique of health policy by the AMA, but such criticisms were eminently foreseeable after years of policy dereliction from Peter Dutton (now Health Minister, Dutton had been Health spokesman for most of the Coalition's time in opposition; he has apparently done no policy work to speak of, despite its significance to the national budget and political sensitivities, leaving himself and the government open to criticism long before Owler's speech. You want context? That's context).
It seems 'context' is the press gallery's way of asserting that its interpretation of events is the only possible interpretation, a point echoed feebly by Annabel Crabb and Murdoch pissboy and propagandist Simon Benson:
What Abbott has exposed this week more than anything is the complete vacuum of leadership Australia had been living under in the six years of Labor government.Rudd, Gillard, Combet - and yes, Shorten - any of them would have done what Abbott did, without the overreach and without having to fend off frantic attention-seeking behaviour from Tony Abbott (and Simon Benson). The rest of Benson's piece, and his body of work more generally, might fairly be described as crap.
The competence and decorum shown by the Abbott government was shown to be an aberration, reverting as it is to incompetent policy and indecorous politics. Those of us who (generally) aren't impressed by this government can draw no vindication as there is no safe, capable, real alternative. The adults boxed Abbott in to accepting things like UN Security Council resolutions, and there is some hope that may yet be replicated in health policy.
This government can only be rendered competent when its other sneaky, half-baked alternatives are firmly closed off. The press gallery are not yet awake to this, and may never be - they are waiting pointlessly but earnestly for a "poll bounce", a return to their 'golden September' of last year. The polls are, as ever, beside the point. All we should reasonably foresee from recent developments is "the tenderness of patient minds/ And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds".