23 August 2015

Handy Andy

The selection of Andrew Hastie as the Liberal candidate for Canning is a nice summary of all that was wrong with the Abbott government (and yes, the choice of past tense is deliberate).

Due process

There was a time when no self-respecting political party would touch a candidate who was still under investigation for serious matters on the field of battle. The report of this investigation may well exonerate Hastie, or it may not; in an era with greater respect for the armed forces and its due processes, Hastie would have been forced to wait until all such investigations were concluded.

It was inappropriate for Hastie to refer to these matters as having been concluded; had he done so before his resignation from the Army, such comments would have been insubordinate.

Under the Abbott government, there has been scant regard for due process. Where the government has been apprehensive about its chances of success in legal proceedings, such as in its treatment of asylum-seekers or granting of mining leases, the government has framed its opponents in alarmist terms ("vigilantes", "terrorists") and changed the law to exclude their right to even bring an action against the government. While one arm of the government (the investigative processes within the ADF) regards Hastie and those under his command as a subject of investigation, another (Abbott's office, and potentially the legislature) ignores the very possibility that he might yet have a case to answer.

If I were a standard Canberra pundit, I might wryly opine that Hastie's candidacy is "brave". I think it's typical of this government to ride roughshod over respect for procedure and legal niceties whenever they feel like it.

Government information-gathering above all other considerations

The ADF investigation, as David Wroe points out, centres on whether or not Australian soldiers breached the rules of war by removing the hands of Taliban fighters for the purposes of identification after the battle.

On the battlefield, mutilating bodies would surely decrease the prospect of civilian co-operation at best, at worst fuel anti-Western hatred and spur more and worse attacks upon Australian troops. Again, though, this is a matter for military and/or scholarly inquiries.

I will not get squeamish or moralistic about what soldiers do in battle. It is fair to say, however, that it is typical of this government to prioritise its information-gathering requirements over any and all other considerations.

The finest minds in the government couldn't define metadata, but they still want to monitor it. It spies on its political opponents, whether you want to talk about Senator Faulkner allegedly receiving leaks or Senator Hanson-Young allegedly being spied upon. This government (and successive major-party governments in recent years - only in the supposedly chaotic parliament of 2010-13 did it abate) has decreased privacy considerations in its information-gathering to the point where any remaining privacy provisions stand like burnt-out, gutted buildings, relics of a past that has not quite gone but which might impede 'progress' from time to time.

Hastie may have acted under orders in gathering such information as he and his troops gathered. Information gathered by such grisly means may well have some value. The idea that such information-gathering drowns out all other considerations is not quite an epitaph for this government, but it's definitely part of its legacy.


... I ask myself: why isn’t our party selecting more women members of parliament?

Why isn’t our party, as relatively advanced on this today as we were 70 years ago?

Why haven’t we remained ahead of our time in promoting women; and is that one of the reasons why we no longer attract the majority of women voters?

... there is consistently low female representation across our party.

There are relatively few women in leadership positions in the lay party
[sic]; there are relatively few women in the parliament; and because there are relatively few women in the parliament it’s harder to get more women into the cabinet.

- Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Address to [Liberal Party] Federal Women's Committee Luncheon, Adelaide, 15 August 2015

I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man [Abbott] ... If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.

- Prime Minister Julia Gillard, address to the House of Representatives, Canberra, 9 October 2012

Abbott could have insisted that the vacancy in Canning be filled by a woman. He could have prevailed upon women of substance like Diane Smith-Gander or Deirdre Willmott, or even Tess Randall, to stand - and prevailed on WA Liberal powerbrokers like Julie Bishop and Matthias Cormann to make it happen. This wouldn't have meant there was a quota - perish the thought! - but a successful political operation would have made it happen under the circumstances, some work of noble note may yet be done, etc etc.

Georgina Dent found Abbott's speech "astonishing":
Not, sadly, due to its astute revelations or bold leadership, rather it is its complete and curious absence of substance, critical analysis and deductive reasoning that makes it shocking.
Pretty much all of Tony Abbott's speeches are like that. A dull-witted survey of the landscape, followed by some cliched remarks that might have passed for considered thought in some bygone century, all summed up in a way that must be what it's like to suffer from incontinence: an awareness that you're in an unpleasant position made worse by the shame at having brought it upon yourself, and the inadequacy of all other options (including blame) to get you out of the predicament.

Dent has probably been lucky in not subjecting herself to regular doses of Abbott's speeches. Press gallery journalists also express surprise at how bad his speeches are; unlike Dent they've endured those speeches for decades, so one can only conclude such people are the worst thing any journalist can be - obtuse.

Hastie cannot be blamed for not being a woman, a shortcoming all too common. I hope it is not grossly sexist of me to observe that Hastie will prove more indicative (if not quite representative) of this government than many women who have been active members of it.

Conservatives and the military

Modern politics calls for major-party candidates who do as they're told, don't speak out of turn, and don't hog the limelight. Members of the ADF have those qualities in spades.
I never felt Labor had our backs when I was serving [in the Army].

- Andrew Hastie, yesterday
Members of the ADF vote for the conservative parties more than any other occupational group - more than lawyers, or farmers, or corporate executives. It comes as no surprise that such people would also join those parties, run for preselection and secure public office.

The defence force serves the nation, regardless of who may be governing it at any given moment. Yet, conservative politics in this country has always claimed to be more supportive of the military than Labor:
  • Billy Hughes split the ALP over conscription in World War I;
  • Labor had pacifist and anti-Imperialist elements among its membership since the party's inception, which increased after the slaughter of World War I;
  • Labor criticised what little the Lyons government did to upgrade Australia's military in the 1930s;
  • John Curtin had been a pacifist in World War I, and conservatives used this against him becoming Prime Minister during World War II. The disastrous decision to send Australian troops to Singapore was considered by many historians to be a reaction to conservative criticism, not only from within Australia but from Churchill in the besieged UK;
  • Following rhetoric from the Nixon Administration in the US, conservatives conflated protests against the Vietnam war with pacifism and antipathy to troops, and criticised the Whitlam government for withdrawing Australian troops from South Vietnam;
  • In 2003, then-Labor leader Simon Crean opposed sending Australian troops to Iraq, but declared his support for the troops nonetheless to the derision of the gung-ho Howard government.
All of the above points (and others like them) have been painstakingly rebutted by historians. I do not aim to lend them credibility they don't have, but rather to show Hastie's remark is not some unprecedented departure from the ADF's non-partisan service to the nation. Hastie draws upon a consistent rhetorical tradition in Australia's conservative politics.

Poor pay and conditions for ADF personnel, and inadequate support for wounded veterans, are yet more of those bipartisan traditions that our press gallery and defence/foreign policy intelligentsia insist upon but which fail us over and over again. You can expect that Andrew Hastie, whether as an MP or an advisor, will achieve no more for serving personnel and veterans than anyone else has in the past fifty years.

The kiss of death

He'll wrap you in his arms,
tell you that you've been a good boy
He'll rekindle all the dreams
it took you a lifetime to destroy
He'll reach deep into the hole,
heal your shrinking soul,
but there won't be a single thing that you can do
He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
through this disappearing land ...

- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Red right hand
At their press conference in Canning Abbott praised Hastie - but he would, wouldn't he, blunting the news value in witnessing and recording such a statement. Pretty much everyone Abbott has praised effusively has come a-gutser in recent times, and the people of Canning are entitled to take his endorsement with a grain of salt. The Liberal Party can't go on with a leader whose very presence is a kiss of death; we saw in that Abbott-Napthine picture a serpentine Abbott seeming to drain Napthine's very marrow, negating their words or what the prospect of federal and state governments acting within the same party might hope to achieve.

Tony Abbott is a loser. It is entirely likely that Andrew Hastie will not become the next Member for Canning, and that the Liberals will use this as the excuse they need to dump Tony Abbott - but I've said that already. What about Hastie? He can't go back to the ADF, he's shirtfronted his superiors with his dopey comments pre-empting a long-running investigation, and if there's a Labor government he will end up with all the difficult, boring, no-credit jobs until he retires. The Liberals won't look after him - he has no deep roots in the WA Liberals, and being associated with Abbott isn't the golden ticket it might once have been. Who will look out for him?

Even if Hastie wins the byelection, he won't have enough time to cement himself in place before the next election. At the press conference we saw his umbrage at being questioned by journalists. Some random on the street will lead him a merry dance.

If Abbott goes plenty of staff will go with him too, as the Pharaohs were entombed with their most loyal retainers. There may be a vacancy for Hastie, particularly if the next Prime Minister fails to stem perceptions that this government is on the way out. He would be foolish to count too much on their good graces.

Hastie is flying without a net all right, and unemployment in WA is going up enough as it is without him (potentially) adding to it: think about the skills he has, in a market where demand for them won't be what it was.


But never mind an actual candidate being actually representative of the actual government. Some guy who hogged the obscurity he should have rightfully shared with Tony Abbott, and who has been politically inert for a decade (yet highly regarded by a dying broadcast medium) was rude to literate Melburnians. The incumbents fall to a resurgent opposition. Life goes on.


  1. Ahh. Yet another Captain's pick, which seems destined to enjoy the same bipartisan support and praise as his other picks.

    Even the dullest brain going around would probably wait for the outcome of the investigation before elbowing other contenders for pre-selection out of the way.

    Liesalot has been an unmitigated disaster as PM. Only the most delude commentator or barracker could honestly believe the reverse. The ghastly Murdoch must spend a lot of time smiting his brow at what an appalling choice he made in pushing Liesalot's barrow.

    And frankly if anybody has hopes of Liesalot ever displaying bold leadership, substance, critical analysis, deductive reasoning, principles, ethics or morals, they will have a very, very long wait.

    He does not possess any of these qualities, but rather displays all the petty spitefulness, blame shifting, arrogance and character assassination of anyone who disagrees with him you'd expect to find in the schoolyard.

    Unfortunately, the entire Parliamentary Liberal Party is infested with the same sort of individuals. If there was at least one adult among them, there might be some hope. Alas, there is no such individual and no hope of adults running it for a generation.

    1. I think Murdoch is actually very happy with the outcome Anon. He doesn't give a fig about Australia, as long as he can keep making money out of it.

  2. Thanks Andrew. I haven't given Hastie much thought so I was unaware until I read your column that an investigation was still underway. That is taking a long time isn't it. I had to plough back into the mists of time to recall the hand removal episode.

    The ALP candidate seems to be an intelligent man who is also a local.

    I find it astonishing though that the major parties have put up the stereotypical candidates: an ex-soldier and a lawyer. I thought we were all about getting more women into Parliament. Ah me you can't send a woman on a man's errand.

    1. This is a by-election caused by an unexpected death. People who may be ordering their lives around being able to run for office at the next election are not necessarily ready to step away from their jobs, careers, families for the by-election. These are factors which affect the types of people who run for office at the best of times, but even moreso at an unexpected byelection.

    2. Yes but politics is an opportunistic business, and you take chances as they arise.

    3. Oh, sure- just explaining why the "stereotypical candidates" are particularly likely to be sighted at byelections. Most people aren't so desperate to be in politics that they'll risk ending up sabotaging their own career by running out of their job on short notice to campaign (particularly with mortgages and families to worry about), if they even can leave on less than 4 weeks' notice And that's a good thing, because surely we want more people in Parliament with experience of the real world and less Sophie Mirabellas.

  3. Andrew, perceptive as always. Something I noticed on Insiders today was how each journalist was gushing on about how well played Hastie the potential smear of his military career from parts of the media. My thoughts are; its all very well to ask questions about security (playing into Abbott's ten flags) but what about Hastie's thoughts of signing up to the LNPs war on renewables? Especially when John Grimes of the Australian Solar Council is leading a major campaign to get Abbott in the marginals. http://solar.org.au/blog/2015/08/15/solar-voters-to-play-major-role-in-canning-by-election/ … This story will have more to run.

  4. Abbott was in Broome this morning; I asked a friend (who scored an invite to his breakfast meeting at the civic centre) what happened: "completely underwhelming No announcements No nothing!!!"
    And that just felt like a summary of his government.

  5. Yesterday Paul Kelly told Peter van Onseln that he believes Abbott orchestrated the request by the US for Australia to join in the bombing of ISIS targets in Syria. Why? According to Kelly to wedge Labor.

    It is glib to say but I do not know how Abbott sleeps at night.

    1. Blind Freddie could have told van Onseln that. Kelly seems to have acquired a tendency to state the bleedin' obvious as if it were written in the runes.

    2. And how does one wedge a blancmange?

    3. This is exactly how we got involved in Vietnam, and almost certainly Iraq / Afghanistan as well. O7ur Tony (TM) is probably hoping it'll work as well for him as it did Menzies and Howard respectively.

    4. Abbott doesn't sleep. He lies awake in terror, waiting for the knives. The plan to bomb ISIS in Syria is pure, sphincter-clenching desperation to stave off the inevitable.

  6. I went to the Melbourne Writers Festival and I can assure you that it's glorious to see feathers being ruffled by "that" rude guy...

    We love some controversial individuals ...it's an edgy city ...Bolt lives hee as well but we try to ignore him

    1. "That" rude guy is very Outer Suburban Sydney in his outlook!

      The reason that he got into trouble in the first place was that he forgot that he wasn't in the "Sports Bar". "That" rude guy's language and opinions for that matter, is not that different to what you would expect to find (except for the volume) in any "Sports Bar" within a club/pub in Western Sydney.

      Had he flicked the switch, and realised that his audience were inner city intellectuals he might have been ok.

    2. Putting his behaviour down to 'Western Sydney' manners is to fall for his shtick.

    3. Well, it's nice that you agree with Latham's spray. some people reckon it was simply incoherent and completely self serving (he is NOT a working class lad devoid of privilege by any fair assessment) but then anyone who calls him on his rubbish is dismissed as "rich girls". Ha, yes, I'd like to be on HIS parliamentary pension. He's a bully and a tool, not "refreshing" or some "breath of fresh air". A gust of intellectual halitosis, more like.

  7. No doubt Gerard Henderson will not recognise the deep irony ofcolumn appearing in the Australian today. It lambasts the ABC for low media standards.

    And yet ...

    His column appears in the national newspaper which appears to have completely ignored the extraordinary events in Melbourne yesterday. It never happened. Nothing to see here. Move on.

    Talk about media standards!

  8. Andrew..

    Did you hear what happened in Melbourne yesterday

    You couldn't even write this stuff up ..Border force fiasco

    So glad I'm a Melbourne gal and we exposed how unbelievably incompetent people like Minister Dutton really is.

  9. Hastie is an utterly transparent Abbott project - former military SAS captain thrown at Canning critical by-election by faltering PM hanging off national security as last option. I am Western Australian & Abbott misunderstands that his grasping opportunism - plucking a soldier to underpin his national security rhetoric - could come unstuck in WA. Hastie is a total blow in - no local backstory, devoid of any WA connections whatsoever (Canberra bred & NSW resident), in a sprawling high crime & high age demographic of which Hastie knows nothing. Hastie actually has nothing to offer this electorate, his record will not assist with needed programs - healthcare, education & employment - military competence is not a core requirement therein.

  10. So many people seem to so easily and uncritically adopt the social views and attitudes of the trolls of the broadcast media.

  11. Andrew please give us your opinion on Peter Dutton's view that the media is hard on the Abbott government.

  12. Latham may well have a serious anger thing going on - but he is capable of real insight when he flicks the lights on, sadly he doesn't do it much anymore. During the abysmal Melbourne episode, Latham said one really interesting thing - probably just the one.
    It was about Abbott's curious interest in Indigenous affairs. From Abbotts' political position Indigenous affairs are logically a minefield, and he has played to his right wing audience over the topic with recent statements about Indigenous welfare as lifestyle choice etc. But Latham, picking up on Keating's line of thought, suggested Abbott's interest is entirely in context of his religious bent, that Abbott, thinks he is a missionary off doing good deeds. This may sound glib at first, but actually it makes lot of sense, Abbott's interest in the area is an extension of is old fashioned religo-paternalism. It explains why such a throwback as Abbott, with no history of significant social policy work, has taken on the Indigenous portfolio, and equally, more so, why he has in turn, no actual reform or policy ideas about what to do with the portfolio, bar the annual photo opportunity.
    Latham, is a ball of seething frustration, equal parts angered by the stupidity of the groupthink press gallery (ring a bell) and the lack of depth in most 'left' politics as it disappears into factions or identity politic infighting. But he can in rare moments come out with something as bang on target as above comment.

  13. Abbott's gone and no new comment from Andrew?? What has the world come to, you have your fanbase on edge!

  14. Are you ever going to post again, Andrew? Missing you big time!

  15. I keep coming back here to see what you've made of the turmoil. I was wondering if you were no longer politically homeless perhaps?