09 December 2009

The puppet

The journosphere have latched onto two clichés 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.


  1. It's going to be joy watching Dad's Army fall into the mud one by one.

  2. Poor analogy, considering who The Enemy was in that series - but the spirit of Corporal Jones lives on.

  3. derrida derider11/12/09 3:29 pm

    A good post, full of well-deserved savagery (my gratitude to you, BTW, on reading that hopeless shill Sheridan so I don't have to).

    I reckon one or two of the moderates, starting with Turnbull himself, aren't at all unhappy at being put to the back of the train given that this train is about to become a massive wreck. Look for a very different shadow ministry after the election.

  4. Not different enough, dd. Think of a worst-case scenario and look at who'd be left after such a scenario played out. The Victorian state preselections show what timidity the Liberals have toward chucking out sitting members. It could be worse, and it will be.

  5. A refreshing insight, next to the frequent blandness of the establishment commentariat :)

    Particularly good call on the inevitable crippling of moderate Greg Hunt, I reckon. The Minchin-Abbott cabal will use him and then, if unable to turn him to the Dark Side, will discard him like a used tissue.

    Perhaps Joyce was put into Cabinet so that he can be muzzled more easily? Abbott has now invoked "team solidarity" (ie. "shut up and toe the line or else, you barmy cornfed git") after Joyce ran his mouth off about economic armageddon..

  6. Hunt should do what Howard would have done - 4-8 weeks before election day, call a press conference and say: look, I tried but they just weren't interested. This is what we should do, but Tony and Nick just won't have it so good luck them. I'm off to win my seat and they can come out with their own plan.

    As for Joyce, the damage is done. He's untouchable and he knows it. It's Abbott who's weakened. Like Heffernan, Joyce might not come out with something like that next week, or even the week after - but he has a sabre to rattle now, which he didn't before.

    As for Abbott - if Joyce spouted off about something that was populist but economically irresponsible, on what grounds would Abbott pull him into line? If Joyce told Abbott to shove off, what then?