17 December 2009

Is Arthur Sinodinos full of shit?

Probably not in general terms, he was a figure of substance within the Howard government and remains influential in business, government and Liberal Party circles. That, however, doesn't explain this. Nobody else is going to shirtfront Arthur but in this case he's making a lot of assertions that don't make sense, so it falls to me to make a citizen's arrest under the Emperor Has No Clothes Act.

So far the polls have not moved but that gives Abbott plenty of runway. It is unlikely that people have made up their minds about him.

If the polls were ever going to move in response to the new leader, they would have done so by now. In NSW, there has been no poll movement following the election of Kristina Keneally; this is proof that she's a dud. Federally, there has been no poll movement for the Libs following the election of Tony Abbott; anyone who "dare[s] to dream of winning the next election" is delusional.

It is absolutely the case that people have made up their minds that Tony Abbott must not become Prime Minister. He can have as much "runway" as Marwoto Komar but he's not going to make it.

The phrase loyal opposition is to him [Abbott] an oxymoron.

The phrase "loyal opposition" refers to the idea that one can oppose the current government of the country without being disloyal to the country itself, its institutions, its head and its people. If he's going to be disloyal to the country as a whole in a quest for power over it, then stuff him.

No quarter will be given and none is expected.

This would be fine if the ALP really was as soft as the Liberals would like to think they are. Again, in NSW the Liberals long assumed that Bob Carr was a cream-puff long after he'd left a trail of blood and devastation behind him through the ranks of the NSW ALP. He beat them four times, five if you count 1991. Abbott has positioned the Liberals within range of Labor's guns; Turnbull's support for the ETS was only ever a gambit and Labor was not prepared for where he'd take the game from there. Abbott has little room to move tactically and strategically. He couldn't even knock Jenny Macklin off her perch when she was practically begging to be relieved of an office for which she has no talent, aptitude or sense.

Next minute he will flick the switch to serious thinker, including on thorny topics such as indigenous disadvantage.

Abbott has no credibility on indigenous disadvantage. As Health Minister he cut $1.5b from indigenous health programs. Like his old boss John Hewson, Abbott can point out the weak points but can't convince people he has the strength to make things better.

He is sustained by strong beliefs and is comfortable in his own skin. He is offering the electorate a contest based on character and not polling or research. Like all guerillas, he has the luxury of picking and choosing when and where to attack. Governments prefer to get their opponents in the open and blast them away. In Abbott's hands, incumbency is a negative as government decisions create new targets for the opposition to attack.

All of that could also have been said for Mark Latham in early 2004. Liberals looked on in amazement when Labor chose Latham to lead them, and couldn't believe their luck; nobody should know this better than Arthur Sinodinos. Fans of Abbott's rootin', tootin', no-quarter approach are starting to understand why Labor turned to Latham, even if they don't see they are bound for the same fate. The trick is to convince people that the Liberals would do a better job, and Abbott can't do that.

Abbott is about avoiding cost increases and reducing costs for families.

No, Arthur, he isn't. He only says that in the hope that it wins votes, but nobody will believe him and the Liberal vote will collapse.

New taxes on wealth or the family home will be dead on arrival.

Rudd will run further faster away from any such proposals, leaving Abbott to mutter about socialism and wish that Labor was in fact out to tax everything that moves. Another example of the Libs hammering the wrong target - like the way they go on about law-and-order and state level with Labor governments happy to see and raise them on that issue, and ignore the whining of civil rights advocates.

Rudd cannot typecast [Abbott] as a "free-market fundamentalist".

No, but he can and will typecast Abetz and other senior members of the Opposition in that way, enough to show that the Opposition must not be returned to government.

Abbott's musings on re-regulation of the banks are opportunistic and principled.

Nobody seriously believes he would deliver on this.

Abbott views industrial relations not through the Left-Right divide but the prism of small business. He will protect it along with farmers, independent contractors and the self-employed. This should also play well in outlying states and industries such as mining.

Yeah, small businesses like mining companies. There are fewer than 15,000 coal mining jobs in Australia, Arthur, and you'd be surprised how many of them vote Labor and are members of the CFMEU. Likewise, playing to disgruntled farmers won't win back many any seats lost in 2007.

It also covers his flanks in the debate on micro-economic reform.

What flanks, and frankly what debate?

What about the manicured grassroots in safe urban Liberal seats? Abbott probably calculates that they will vote for him anyway if he looks competitive, whatever their reservations on specific issues such as climate change.

To "look competitive" he actually has to build an alternative government, which would assume a greater sense of responsibility than which Abbott is capable. If you're going to take power within the Liberal Party on the basis that the grassroots were ignored, you can't then ignore them - especially if you're bent on sacrificing your marginal seat members. Where exactly is the Abbott Constituency, those people who will only vote Liberal with Abbott out front? There was a definite Howard Constituency, as you know Arthur; but there is no more one for the incument as there was, say, a Crean Constituency.

Your job, Arthur, is not to describe the Abbott phenomenon: that's for Abbott himself and for the Grattans, Annabel Crabbs and Malcolm Collesses of this world. Your job is to describe how realistic their positions and assumptions are, which was the value you added to Howard's office.

The same goes for business. The ever-shrinking pool of corporate donations will follow the opinion polls and Abbott will be careful to mend fences.

If money follows the polls then the Liberals are buggered. If you were on a corporate board you'd have Mr Abbott to lunch as a matter of courtesy, and listen to him describe cutlery as namby-pamby and elitist. Then, you'd send a donation to the ALP to keep in sweet with Senator Arbib.

Abbott's best chance to staunch any voter leakage to the Greens is to polarise the electorate by providing a clear alternative to Labor.

No, that will make it worse. The Green vote will increase in Liberal areas, which may not matter in the House but in the Senate it will be the difference between a state electing one or two Green Senators, and the failure of the third candidate on the Liberal Senate ticket.

... early response to the global financial crisis ... kitchen table concerns ... higher living costs ... education ... Hospitals ...

Yep, all Labor shortcomings, all examples where Abbott can't make the case that the Libs would be better and stronger.

In government, Abbott wanted to take over the state public hospitals.

Would that have made them better, or worse? Given the result of the 2007 election we'd have to conclude it's less than the gamebreaker you might hope for, Arthur.

Abbott is not a great proponent of states' rights ... He supported the takeover of Launceston hospital by the feds in 2007

It was the Mersey Hospital in Latrobe, Arthur, and the people who live and worked there chucked out the Liberal MP.

genuinely believes in devolving decision-making to the community on health matters.

There are two issues here. Firstly, a Commonwealth takeover from the States makes this less likely, not more so. Secondly, as Health Minister Abbott listened to the community and made RU486 available, was in no way responsible for the Pan Pharmaceuticals debacle, and did a great job on educating Australian healthcare professionals to meet the skills shortage in health was high-handed and non-consultative with the full backing of the then PM. Where is the evidence of Abbott's acceptance of community consultation on healthcare, except for narrow and compliant stooges like Rosanna Capolingua?

Interestingly, a substantial proportion of women in a recent Newspoll survey indicated they have yet to make up their minds about Abbott. Here lies an opportunity for him. He should do a series of considered speeches through next year.

By "considered" do you mean "a complete departure from the kind of stuff he's been coming out with throughout his career"? Do you take the chance that he'll drop some sexist clanger that causes that suspension of disbelief to fall like a sword of Damocles?

Do not expect an early election; the voters would be cynical and Rudd needs to do Abbott slowly, jump on any evidence of policy flakiness to seed doubts about Abbott's fitness for office.

At last, a piece of sensible commentary! I knew you could do it Arthur.

Abbott has been in parliament for 15 years and served as a minister and leader of the house.

Kim Beazley had done all that and more, so what?

Nor will Joyce be an easy a mark. He is a higher primate who learns from experience. He is already moderating his utterances.

Until next time. He can't "moderate" his position on climate change and other key issues without backing down. A great description of Joyce being rattled and prone to gaffes is described here:

Barnaby Joyce is a fascinating interview subject. He is invariably affable and cheery but as the interviews wear on, he tends to become exasperated. His befuddlement renders the pinkish hue of his complexion into a scarlet, almost vermillion tone, little specks of spit collect around the corners of his mouth and his nose turns cherry red.

These physiological changes are signs that the interview is about to leap into the realms of entertainment and that soon will follow what we political pundits like to refer to as the “money shot”.

Besides, is it too much to expect more from a government minister than to be a "higher primate"?

Rudd has to be the steady hand on the tiller. He must make a virtue of his alleged nerdiness to paint Abbott as lacking substance. He should emphasise his command of issues but engage the public in a way he did not do with the emissions trading scheme.

And Rudd is in Copenhagen gathering tips and tricks from the leading politicians of the world to do just that. Abbott, meanwhile, is lolling around Sydney talking about his chest-hair.

The ascension of Abbott has tilted the odds in favour of more pre-election sweeteners.

It follows the whole narrative of reaping the rewards of saving the country from the GFC, and would have worked had Turnbull stayed in.

Abbott has targeted the economic stimulus package for savings. Expect Labor to pressure him to go further. Rudd needs to take the high ground on the budget and craft a narrative around future challenges, including the ageing population, the looming commodities bonanza and the conservation of resources.

Expect Abbott to be unable to match this combination of fiscal prudence and expenditure on the needful and necessary. That will be the telling difference, Arthur.

... expect to see more of those budgie smugglers.

A triumph of self-indulgence over political prudence. As I said earlier it didn't work for Debnam or Baillieu.

TONY Abbott is the Spartacus of Australian politics.

Yep: caused the Romans a bit of bother for a little while but they killed him eventually, routing his supporters and using their very corpses as proof of the power of the incumbents. Abbott's preference for martyrdom over victory should worry Liberals more than it does: it's another example of his callow lack of responsibility.

Why would Arthur Sinodinos write a piece he must surely know to be false? To keep his hand in and show that he's not a part of some bygone age, and to show that his loyalty is greater than his current capacity for cool judgment. When a party is hell-bent on self-destruction there are no prizes for being smart before the event, at least not publicly. His responsibility is not to churn out twaddle like this but prepare the triage team for the inevitable disaster.

13 December 2009

Madness in any direction not an attractive proposition

The Abbott-Minchin-Joyce Coalition are sending mixed signals, which is why they can't and won't win. What follows here is inspired by this post and this quote:

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.

- Hunter S. Thompson Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

That quote seems to sum up the feeling being projected by the Abbott-Minchin-Joyce Coalition at the moment. The road ahead is clear, and those who can tell them what (not) to do are few. The problem is that in framing the political debate, it's in the Opposition's interests to not carry on like they are.

The idea of a loyal Opposition in Australian politics is to say with credibility that the incumbent government is taking Australia in the wrong direction; it's going too fast on issues that are toxic or trivial, and not far enough on issues that are important. Having done that, it has to make the case that it would take Australia in the right direction, going fast and far on the good stuff and putting an end to all that rot.

I think the Rudd government is moving too slowly on a lot of issues I think are important: infrastructure; healthcare; the redevelopment of Aboriginal social systems; better and more extensive relations with Asian, African and Latin American countries; a proper broadband network; education; and yes carbon reduction strategies that will boost the economy - lots of things really. In none of those areas can you be confident that the Coalition would do a better job than Labor, however well they might highlight this or that example of inadequacy.

More to the point, a boisterous and bumptious Opposition is appropriate for a time when opportunities are going begging and a tired government has no real idea what to do. Queensland needs an Opposition like that, so do South Australia and Tasmania; but Australia doesn't. Australia is going through significant challenges economically and environmentally, and the Rudd government's policies are hit-and-miss in meeting these challenges.

The Opposition should represent more hits than misses; articulating new and better ways forward through a thicket of challenges that must, without a clear narrative, seem overwhelming. God help it if they adopt the wrong narrative: maybe this will be the get-out clause for those who believe Howard's policies didn't get a fair run.

A boisterous and bumptious Opposition is not appropriate for the complex argument that the CPRS is not an adequate response to the threat carbon pollution poses to our environment, but that something has to be done and that thing is yet to be determined. The difference between the 1999 republic and the 2009 CPRS is that simply negating the positive case does not leave a stable status quo. The idea that no action on carbon emissions (other than open-ended no-obligation grants to carbon producers, and vague musings on nuclear power) is a stable status quo is rubbish. The fact that business groups are not united in calling for any and all carbon abatement measures to be kyboshed, nor calling for "removing business uncertainty associated with the climate change debate" should worry the Liberals more than it apparently does.

Turnbull could have represented the Liberals as a safe pair of hands: economic responsibility with less debt, environmental change that doesn't derail the economy for some oblique culture-war purpose. Hockey might have too, had be become leader (his challenge is to come out of the Abbott Experiment unscathed, without looking like either a ratbag or a doormat). Oh well. It is Rudd who now looks like the safe pair of hands, doing his best under difficult circumstances.

Nobody is going to represent Tony Abbott as a safe pair of hands: he's the boy who hasn't/ won't/ can't grow up. Besides:

  • He's not going to promote economic responsibility, because having squibbed the great economic debates of the past three decades he doesn't know where to start (let alone on issues like house prices, mortgages and families). You'd think he would, with an Economics degree from Sydney Uni and having worked at close quarters with Hewson, Howard and Costello - but no.

  • He can't promote low debt because the Nationals will want (and get) too much pork for economic responsibility.

  • He can't just outsource foreign policy to the Americans and the Poms because they seem tentative about Afghanistan, and other issues like Israel-Palestine are less clear-cut than they were.

  • On top of all that, Abbott won't do anything that changes the environment because he genuinely thinks things are fine as they are, or that it's all too hard.

In 2007, the Liberals could not get used to the idea that Howard was leading them into perdition. In 2009, the Abbott Experiment is all about the idea that Howard-style conservatism is an idea that has not been properly tried, let alone exhausted. It's an idea held by nobody who doesn't vote Liberal/National/CEC already.

11 December 2009

Another weak Liberal

The Nationals own Tony Abbott, not that it will do either of them any good.

Barnaby Joyce's brain-farts about state debt, Chinese investments and the US economy was a gambit to show Nats voters just how much he had the Liberal leader in his pocket. Yes, what he said wasn't sensible - but after Joh and Tim Fischer we should be grateful that it was in grammatical English at all. The focus of the journosphere on our great and powerful allies or on the states is beside the point, and shows that political reporters don't really understand what they're reporting on.

There have been three times in Federal Coalition history when the Liberals stood up to the National/Country Party. Each time the country was better off for calling their bluff sheer bloody effrontery. This week wasn't one of them; the Nats have got themselves another patsy in the Liberal leadership, which is how they like it. On a regular basis the Nats will now get all huffy about threats (real and imagined) to their exalted position, and Abbott will cave. The problem is that some people are more important than the Nationals, and that sometimes you have to disagree with the Nats in order to produce positive policy and political outcomes.

The first Liberal to put the Country Party, as they were called then, back in their place was Menzies. After the 1955 election the Primary Industry portfolio was not allocated to a CP minister, as they considered their right; but to that slickest of city-slickers, Billy McMahon. McMahon applied himself to the role and impressed farmers groups and other stakeholders, to the dismay of the Country Party. In this, McMahon was ably assisted by a Liberal grazier in his first term in Parliament, Malcolm Fraser.

The second time this happened was during the 1980s, when John Howard attempted to both placate and distinguish himself from the Queensland Nationals, led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Bob Sparkes. The Joh for Canberra thing fell over in the late 1980s, as did the then Queensland government, with two unelected Premiers proving that you can't heal a party of perceived corruption while it is still in office. When John Howard eventually became Prime Minister the Nats did not say boo to him, they didn't dare.

The third Liberal leader not to put up with any crap from the Nats was Malcolm Turnbull. He even sacked the only member of that organisation currently in Parliament with any brains at all, Fiona Nash. The Nats even gibbered about leaving the Coalition until they realised they'd be voting themselves into oblivion.

The point about Joyce's remarks was the pissweak response from Abbott. If a moderate Liberal had made stupid remarks about the State Government of WA, Washington and Beijing, you can be sure Abbott and several other frontbenchers would have jumped all over them. Joyce got away with it. He'll get away with it again, and again and again, until a Liberal leader makes them realise that sort of carry-on makes largesse to rural communities less likely than more so.

The recent debates on the ETS, where Joyce was shown red-faced and spitting like some loser at chucking-out time, shows that he's a liability to everyone bar a few politically insignificant and self-marginalising yokels. Abbott has indulged Joyce, and you do start as you intend to go on. Bagging the Chinese does work against the notion of a prospective Liberal government as welcoming foreign investment or Australian prosperity generally. It goes right against the principle of seeking to build the kind of productive relationship that successive governments have built with Japanese interests since 1957 (while McMahon was Minister for Primary Industries - but by then the relationship with the Country Party had healed to the point where McEwen could take credit for it, but I digress), which is what Howard was trying to do, and what Mandarin-speaking Rudd was promising to do.

Christian Kerr's article on the removal of Turnbull in The Australian Spectator is one of the few sensible things written recently by anyone on that side of politics. That's what makes this so disappointing:

Abbott, Hulk-like, is rampaging around, talking about the government’s “emissions tax on everything”. Combet is responding with reason—and pages of figures.

Bruce Banner hates the creature he becomes.

But there can be no denying. The Hulk gets things done. And the angrier and baser he becomes, the stronger he gets and the more he accomplishes.

Abbott has accomplished nothing, in whatever guise (but all that Hulk/Superman crap does conjure up the image of Kerr as The Comic Book Guy from that other News Corp product, The Simpsons). If the Nationals think they can ride Abbott like the town bike, which they now do, he'll accomplish even less. Less than Greg Combet, who is more likely to be in Cabinet after the next election than Joyce. Slow and steady wins the race. Turnbull would have learned that after Godwin Grech turned out to be less a Clark Kent/Bruce Banner figure than the pathetic little man behind the curtains from The Wizard of Oz. Press gallery thrillseekers should be a little more critical of what gets served up to them.

09 December 2009

The puppet

The journosphere have latched onto two clich├ęs to help them through a tumultous start to the month. One is that Kristina Kenneally is a puppet, because it is the one thing Nathan Rees said that won't evaporate in four days. The second is that Tony Abbott is some four-square conservative who is a devastatingly effective politician and very much his own man, you always know where he stands.

Tony Abbott is not a devastatingly effective politician. Every target he's had in the ALP has not only survived, but thrived: surely the journosphere have noticed that Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon and even the hapless Jenny Macklin are none the worse for their having been shadowed by this toothless tiger. The fact that nobody knows what the Liberal Party's response to the Northern Territory Emergency is, and that Labor have spent $1b with nothing to show for it, shows Abbott's gifts for squandering political opportunity.

Tony Abbott is not his own man. He was owned by Howard and now he is owned by Minchin. During last week's shenanigans, Abbott was happy to let the ETS go through to get the issue "off the table", then he backflipped. He was happy to stand down in favour of Joe Hockey, then Minchin stepped in and backflipped him on that too. It puts the lie to this claim that "Abbott hasn't arrived at his anti-ETS position lightly". Yes, Ben, he did. He'll be even more casual with climate change policy developed by moderates.

Abbott has nowhere to go on climate change or any other issue: he must toe the line that others have laid down for him. It is not a good thing that the Liberals'climate change policies are being developed by Greg Hunt and Simon Birmingham, we have seen this movie before. First, their riding instructions are so narrow that they can only ever come up with a cramped compromise. Second, on every day between now and whenever Liberal climate change policy gets released, senior members of Abbott's frontbench will dismiss man-made climate change as an issue. By the time the policy is released Hunt and Birmingham will have no credibility at all, within the Coalition or among environmentalists; but they will cop all the blame for Liberals losing votes for their skepticism denialism.

Hunt and Birmingham must be the biggest suckers around to believe whatever Abbott and Minchin offered them in order to take this role on. Birmingham swore blind that he'd support the ETS in the Senate, but when it came to the vote he wimped out - and Minchin and Abbott love it when moderates wimp out, they love it when their stereotypes are reinforced.

But from what I can gather, and others close to him say, he's anything but a mad, extreme-right-wing thug. As The Australian's Greg Sheridan said: "There is nothing at all in Abbott's philosophy or record that would justify the term extremist."

Leaving aside the fact that Greg Sheridan has no credibility, there is the wider issue that people ought not go into public life simply to indulge their friends. So he reserves his compassion for his friends, who doesn't? Or to put it another way: Tony Abbott already has all the friends he needs, and if you're not one there's no reason why he'd help you. Sure, he'd say he was compassionate toward a group he's about to trample underfoot, much like Howard did. Abbott has spent his life trying to dodge those most central of Chrisrtian injunctions: that by thy actions shalt thou be judged, as you do to the least of my brothers so do you do to Me.

During the 1980s and '90s John Howard's mistakes were all his own, he was his own man when he was riding high as well as when he was down in the dumps. It was Howard who gave orders to Minchin and Abbott, but it is not true that Abbott is in a position to dictate his own terms. Any difference of opinion between Minchin and Abbott will be resolved in Minchin's favour.

Because Abbott is so ill-prepared, he's kicked into "man of action" overdrive: WorkChoices, nuclear power, etc are all being bandied about.

He needs to slow down and focus on the ETS and painting Rudd Labor as the greatest squanderers of public funds since Whitlam, which they most certainly are.

He also needs to slow down because this may just be his first chop at Liberal leader. The path back to office is long. Rushing about exposes him to a Latham-style meteoric rise; then spectacular flame out.

This is a matter for those friends of his, and for those supposedly wise hands that he's put on his front bench. It also broaches the idea that being leader of your party is not a licence to do whatever the hell you want, as Malcolm Turnbull learnt to his cost.

Abbott's complexity means he has the potential to be a great prime minister.

No it doesn't. All of the lousy party leaders and PMs have been fantastically complex personalities. Setting up straw men and knocking them down is no proof of anything.

Fawning profiles like this are such bullshit: Tony Abbott will do what he is bloody well told and no backsliding will be tolerated. He might be a good source but he'd be a lousy Prime Minister, and hacks like Wright ae obliged to assess him on the latter rather than the former.

This leads us to the frontbench, handpicked by the Leader (Minchin):

  • Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is shadow minister for ageing, and Bronwyn Bishop is shadow minister for seniors. This should be hilarious. For the past ten years Concetta has been trying to convince Bishop to step aside as Member for Mackellar in favour of her own good self, but Bronnie was having none of it. Eventually, rather than stoop to the low rat cunning Bishop has in spades, poor Connie threw a tantrum and got a spot in the Senate (which she will shortly lose to former Minchin staffer David Miles). You can be sure Bishop will have done six seniors/ageing-related media events before breakfast, while Fierravanti-Wells will sulk and nitpick before eventually fighting a losing battle to save her own seat.

  • What will also stick in Fierravanti-Wells' craw is that she'll leave the Senate before Marise Payne will. Payne is shadow minister for a non-ministry, and will be overridden by shadow spokespeople on substantive issues discussed at COAG, health and infrastructure and what have you. Another foolish moderate beard on the most repellently rightwing Liberal parliamentary party ever.

  • Sophie Mirabella in Industry: one cretin from Melbourne with no idea about the private sector shadowing another.

  • Eric Abetz will not be able to sell workplace relations because he has no idea what it means to be an employee or an employer. The ACTU will marginalise him as a zealot long before Gillard swans in and deep-sixes him. He will frighten small children and no Liberal candidate for any seat +/- 7% will want him anywhere near their voters.

  • Peter Dutton: one weak performer shadows another, who can at least win preselection.

  • Kevin Andrews as Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services: lazy, dumb Macklin gets another easy ride.

  • Barnaby Joyce as Shadow Minister for Finance and Debt Reduction: this gibbering yokel wants to spend $billions of public money on sinkholes like Cubbie Station and dares to assume any credibility on fiscal rectitude? Artie Fadden he ain't. This is where he will be tested, and he will most assuredly fail. Tanner will have him on toast.

  • Minchin will agree with everything Martin Ferguson says and does and will fail to shake down substantial donations from mining companies, objectively and in comparison to Labor. No fearsome warrior this, he'll be completely ineffective outside his own party, a tinpot Cheney.

  • Joe Hockey should not have taken Treasury, but then who would be better?

  • Christopher Pyne has done nothing in Education, nothing as Manager of Opposition Business, and has failed to save his leader; this will continue.

  • Bill Shorten is safe with pinhead Mitch Fifield on his case.

  • Tony Smith Costello in Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy: God help us. A not-so-smart smart-arse bagging a piece of infrastructure essential to Australia's future at the behest of Telstra is a pathetic piece of miscasting. Watch for Paul Fletcher giggling behind his hands as Smith Costello gets all huffy about carbon fibre. He is exactly the sort of lightweight Conroy has spent his career dispatching to the briny depths.

  • "Mr Scott Morrison MP has been appointed Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Scott brings energy and considerable policy talents to this portfolio. He will ensure that the Rudd Government is held to account for its recent changes to Australia’s immigration policy ..." - Yairs, but he won't be able to put together a coherent answer when asked what the Liberals would do if elected, and will be unsuccessful in failing to dispel the notion that they would reinstate the gulags.

  • "Senator the Hon Michael Ronaldson will serve as Shadow Special Minister of State with oversight of the Coalition’s Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee. This committee will continue under the Chairmanship of Senator Guy Barnett". Eh? Memo to Peter Phelps: brush up your CV and get a job with Barnett, Ronno has no future. Don't think of yourself as a rat deserting a sinking ship. Think of yourself as a leech latched onto someone who is out of blood.

Far from being a frontbench that puts the fear of God into the Rudd Government, this is a team that Labor must surely know they can beat any day of the week. The only way the Liberals could be at all formidable with this bunch is if they inspired Labor to be complacent.

Whatever they say publicly, Labor must know that they have Abbott's measure, and Minchin's. However inadvertently, Michael Duffy labelled Abbott as the boy not ready for adulthood, Pinocchio in sluggos. Tony Abbott is the real puppet of Australian politics, jerked to the right by Minchin and the crankies of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party. Kenneally is stuck so far into her own party's ordure that hers would be a dull puppet show. Abbott's will be both funny and sad, like any good drama.

01 December 2009

Get it off your chest

The lunatics have taken over the asylum, but they outnumbered the staff anyway and the matron was a bossy old so-and-so.

I should have known that Turnbull was gone as soon as Nathan Rees said otherwise. If I was still a member of the Liberal Party I would have my head in my hands at the idea of Tony Abbott leading my party. I'm not and it isn't, so I don't. I thought that Turnbull would win, and suspected Hockey might; but I never thought the Liberals would be so stupid as to elect Abbott, the Liberals' answer to Rees (if Abbott is the answer then the question, etc.).

There's only one thing for the Liberals to do now: get all the right whinge crap off your chest. Try out all those ideas of which Howard blunted the rough edges, and go for broke. No ETS, no carbon pollution action except in reaction to the US Congress (and even then it will be weak, with plenty of handouts for US-based polluters who will know what buttons to push to get handouts). Announce that you'll cut spending here and there, and that you'll micromanage those areas of government that involve social investment (i.e. everything but defence and big infrastructure projects). Outsource your foreign policy to Washington so that any twit from Adelaide can become foreign minister. Everything that you wanted John Howard to do but never got around to, make that Liberal policy and go your hardest.

If you're going to rely on the base, and champion the base, you're going to have to embrace the idea that the base will be all you're left with. "I can't promise victory", said Abbott at his press conference: electoral victory would be beside the point. He is leading the Liberal Party to the kind of landslide defeat that all first-term State/Territory Labor governments enjoyed in the '90s, and for the same reason: the Libs think their defeat was a technicality and they'll do less than they did last time, except with more umbrage, so they'll get fewer votes than they got last time.

There's no point moderating those policies any more. Like any moderate leader of the Liberal Party, Joe is the Mr Rochester of Australian politics, courting the heroine (the swinging voter) while the right whingers scream from the attic, wreck stuff, and generally make things difficult impossible. Our heroine will only come back once the edifice has been burnt to the ground and the maddie's dead.

I first met Joe Hockey in about 1989, and thought he was a breath of fresh air as a policy thinker and a natural leader, after a damp squib of two years in the NSW Young Liberals run by a control freak. I understood why the right whingers objected to his rails run into Parliament but I couldn't see them offer anyone better (still can't). He's smart and works hard, and anyone who scoffs at this is in for a hard time.

Turnbull has the opportunity to provide the voice of business on prudence and risk management on environmental policy, but anything coming from him will be portrayed as a leadership gambit by the journosphere. I hope he's like Menzies in 1941, under pressure only to rebound stronger than before, but I could be wrong about that too.

I left the Liberal Party before Tampa. I could not cope with a Parliamentary party that consisted of two factions - the compliant and the supine - both worshipping The Leader in their big broad church. I was an ex-Lib long before Howard's self-indulgence drove his government to oblivion: the country made it out in time but the Libs are still trapped in the twisted wreck, face down in the gutter. The road back will be a crawl, with the Mincheviks screaming all the way about "selling out the base".

If I were Kellie O'Dwyer or Paul Fletcher I'd walk into the party room with an iron bar and beat the shit out of Wilson Tuckey; lucky they didn't preselect me, eh.

It's OK for us bloggers to be political dilettantes, less so - no, not so - for party leaders. I think Abbott is weak for being the front man for the Mincheviks, but he wasn't strong enough to do anything else. Being photographed in sluggos, as he was on the weekend, was an exercise in self-sabotage: he doesn't really want the top job, just like Baillieu and Debnam did with their attempts to look like action men. I've seen Abbott look confident and assured, as he was with the republic; but in recent weeks he's looked and sounded less than convinced, less than convincing.

Tony Abbott is a media tart and nothing else, nothing. He was absent from the economic debates of the 1980s and '90s. His entire ministerial career depended on his ability to attract showers of cash from Howard: as Health Minister Kay Patterson was locked in to a narrow range of policy positions but as soon as Abbott got in he could bend over forwards for doctors' lobbies and drug companies. When he got rolled on RU486 it brought the culture wars to an end in this country (the moderates won; it should have showed anyone who was paying attention that he'd never, ever become Prime Minister). He had no opinions on changes to Australian foreign policy, and shadowed Rudd's weakest minister so ineffectively that she's still there.

Tony Abbott is a much less substantial figure than Andrew Peacock.

To the right whingers; you've won, now show the way ahead. You know you want to, and the way ahead for you is clearer than it has ever been. Delight in your base, but if you want the Liberal Party to win government again, you will have to compromise. My guess is that the right whinge won't have the courage of their convictions, and will start moderating furiously once the Liberal Party gets outpolled by the Greens. Labor knows that there's nothing so true to Labor's traditions than selling out Labor's traditions, and so it is with the Liberals: only when the utter bankruptcy of Minchevism becomes apparent can the long road back to government begin.

Moderates are part of your base, you dickheads. Yes, they* are.