15 February 2010

The things that don't matter

There will almost certainly be an election within twelve months, and Tony Abbott is focussed squarely on the Things That Don't Matter.

This is a contrast to Abbott's rival for the Worst Liberal Opposition Leader in Living Memory, Alexander Downer, who put together an earnest document called The Things That Matter and promptly undermined it with witless banter. Abbott is cobbling together the things that don't matter, cementing his reputation as a pissant and confirming that he'll never be ready for prime time.

In environmental issues, we saw Abbott claim that pulling weeds along the Wakehurst Parkway was more important than reducing carbon emissions. Recently we saw that, of all the healthcare issues affecting Australians today, hospital boards are what we need. You have got to be kidding: people lacking the administrative and political skill to be local councillors will be shunted onto a hospital board, where they will insist on banning abortions or pushing some other pet issue and otherwise distorting health outcomes for the poor institution and community beset with their services.

Yeah, he's getting media attention: but so what? So did the Glenbrook train crash, and increasingly for similar reasons. There is no correlation between media attention for an Opposition and the chances for that Opposition to become the Government. Put it this way: Mark Latham got a mighty good go from the meeja, and Colin Barnett didn't.

By focusing on penny-ante issues, Abbott is failing to excite the sort of interest that Opposition Leader Rudd got against the incumbents of three years ago. He is underlining his own limitations, running a Paralympic campaign in an Olympic tournament (hoping that modest goals, determination and media focus on one's own disabilities might produce some transcendent tale of achievement to compensate for the inevitable loss).

Why are we even speaking of Liberal limitations? Isn't this the frontbench that is going to put the wind up the ALP? Isn't this the bunch that will make Rudd & Co lose what little sleep they get? Wasn't this political basket case a fearsome communicator, a dagger at the heart of Labor hopes? That's what we were promised, but from Garrett to Mike Kaiser to the smoking ruin of Australia's foreign policy it is clear that the Coalition can't hold the government to account. Never mind victory, maintaining the current relatively modest Labor margin is too hard for Abbott's Rabbits: any contention to the contrary overlooks the fact that Abbott's polling is not on the upward trajectory that Turnbull's was.

As time goes on the real limitations of the pissants leading the Liberal Party will become sharper, and as with recent state elections the coming Federal election will be between an inadequate Labor Party and a hopeless Coalition. This breeds resentment over time, particularly when the government is less able to splash cash around. The Liberals won't be able to lift, whereas Labor aren't using the lift available to them. The difference between Rudd and Abbott is that Rudd could lift his game if he wanted to.

As for the meeja, they can't lift their game and their very business model is under question as a result. It's one thing for the press gallery to have a line and stick to it - it's quite another for them to insist on using the blatantly contradictory line that they are, namely: (a) that the Liberals are putting out small-bore policies (hospital boards, weeding parties) that are easy for journalists to understand, (b) that the Libs are incapable of addressing big issues (e.g. the economy), (c) many Liberal policies are just warmed-over Howardism, incase we missed them the first time (we didn't, and they were among the main reasons we voted against the Libs - WorkChoices, refugees); and even after all that (d) Abbott is on an unstoppable upward trajectory that will apparently cause Labor to lose office.


  1. Greensborough Growler16/2/10 12:55 pm

    You do get a sense of the Ali "rope a dope" routine from the rumble in the jungle days with the way Rudd seems to be handling Abbott atm.

    Rather, than compete for publicity while the new Opposition Leader and his team of economic illiterates blather on as the new kids on the block, Rudd and co are absorbing the slings and arrows of outrageous media excitement and waiting for the right moment to stomp on the Libs foot, knee them in the goolies and deliver the knock out punch of coherent economic management.

  2. Yes, you do: as with the Libs in 2004, Labor people today could do worse than to get a copy of the documentary When We Were Kings - which is both excellent and award-winning - to study the "rope-a-dope" phenomenon in detail. Louis Nowra hinted at that in his recent profile of Abbott in The Monthly.