12 October 2010

Low-level bastardry

Tony Abbott's excuse for not going to Afghanistan with Julia Gillard last week is weak. Abbott said that he declined to go to Afghanistan with Gillard because he did not want to project any idea of unanimity of purpose with her - while protesting that unanimity of purpose is exactly what he was trying to project:
"... I just won't cop any suggestion that I am indifferent to the fate of our troops or uninterested in the success of their mission," [Abbott] told a news conference.
A joint appearance by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader would be more than the sum of its parts. It would be a visual demonstration that the commitment of Australian troops is bipartisan. It's never been done, but it would still be worth doing and both leaders would be enhanced by the process. If both of them deign to appear in the House of Representatives, if both attend military funerals, there is no reason why they cannot save time and resources and go together to Afghanistan. Indeed, given this, it would have been desirable.

I take back what I said about David Johnston, the man's a fool. Putting Australian troops in Abrams tanks would invite attack and do nothing for building rapport with the people whose interests we are trying to defend. Abbott has done nothing to distance himself and a future Coalition government from such stupidity.

Abbott deepened his lack of understanding of the military by requesting to go out on patrol. He's not trained, and he devalues the hard work and skill of those who are by just assuming he can tag along and not get in anyone's way. He's a greater danger to our troops than he is to the enemy.
"... I just won't cop any suggestion that I am indifferent to the fate of our troops or uninterested in the success of their mission," [Abbott] told a news conference.
Cop it sweet, fool. Speaking of which, what can be said for this? Yes, Gerard, we've all moved on since the 1950s. If "Gillard and Abbott essentially agree on foreign policy", then a joint appearance would have given more assurances to this effect than all the press conferences in Canberra.

Then there's this:
When it was reported that he had declined her invitation to accompany her to Afghanistan, Mr Abbott explained he had not wanted to arrive in Britain jetlagged. Later he admitted his wording had been bad. The reporter who broke the invitation story has said it didn't come from Ms Gillard or her office.

Regardless of its origin, Ms Gillard did use it to make Mr Abbott look bad - but he'd helped her.

Then, when he reached Afghanistan, he provided her with more ammunition by his "bastardry" lines. He accused her office of briefing journalists ''that I'd somehow dudded the troops by not visiting'' when he had personally told her of his plans - well ahead of her invitation.

With Australian troops fighting and dying there, this scrapping seems incredibly petty.
Petty, yes, but hardly incredible given Abbott's record. It was also stupid of Abbott not to expect Labor to "play politics" in this way: I would have loved to hear Gerard Henderson or Chris Pyne claim that John Howard would never, ever have played politics in this way, not even with an Opposition Leader who hands them the opportunity.

Michelle Grattan should have queried why Abbott could not bring himself to drop his plans and join Gillard, for the sake of unanimity and minimising resource wastage. That would require the sort of analysis that comes with experience, though to be fair she is spot on here:
For Mr Abbott this is a particularly dangerous time. He does not take defeat well, as we saw when he went into a prolonged funk after the 2007 election. His failure to win this election, after coming so close, is especially galling for him.

Yet as Opposition Leader he can't just sulk and get some therapy from writing a book. Nor can he simply kick and scream and expect parliamentary numbers will change by the independents swapping sides.

While it is possible something unforseen, such as byelections, could happen, the independents are likely to hang in where they are. The Parliament has a good chance of lasting all or nearly all its full term.

Mr Abbott at some point has to switch to tactics to deal with that. Very quickly, he needs to get himself into the mind space to cope with such an uncongenial outcome. Otherwise his colleagues will lose faith in him.
The low bastardry, the total unfitness to be Prime Minister, comes with Abbott himself. Even the photo of him frowning at the uniformed soldier is not Prime Ministerial, it's not paternal concern, it's not even worry for Our Boys In The Front Line. It's incomprehension: he doesn't understand what's going on, he's not taking in what's being said to him. The idea that the Liberals should interpret this in any way other than their own leader's petulance reflects poorly on them. Given that the Liberals' key strengths are in security and economic policy, and given their economic record has suffered, why would they throw away their other pillar for the sake of a leader (pro tem.)?

The major challenge for Australian and allied forces in Afghanistan is to win over the populace against the enemy. It requires hard and soft power. Drawing a feeble parallel between war and politics (oh go on, everyone else does), Abbott has no soft power and doesn't respect it; he has less hard power than he imagines. Gillard understands soft power and has hard power, and both are growing by the day against a pitiful opponent.


  1. Surely there are some heavyweights in the Australian IR/Defence establishment who are having quiet words with like-minded folk in the party about this.

    I desperately wanted some political debate in Australia about Defence but I could have never imagined it turning out like this. Its dismal. He is dismal.

  2. Andrew, what gets me going is this whole kerfuffle about politicising the war was all started by Johnston with his half-arsed comments about tanks.
    That the media shows no sign of holding the Coalition to task on their part in the beat up really shows how far they have diverged from credibility.

  3. Tim, you can have quiet words or you can have public words - which is it? The great conundrum of defence policy. For all Labor's wittering about redemocratising their party, do you think that Curtin paid any heed to public debate? Which faction is responsible for Singapore?

    MS, the politicisation of the court-martial is really pissing me off. Brigadier McDade is a person of genuine substance and it galls me that Abbott and Alan Jones are climbing all over her, and by extension the entire military.

  4. The dumping of bipartisanship with respect to defence, and the politicisation of the INDEPENDENCE of the court-martial, are both deeply troubling.

    Why, then, aren't we getting serious commentary where it matters (Jonesboy???) to question WTF Mr Abbott is on about? And more to the point, about his fitness to lead?

    Or is there another agenda in play? Surely not...

  5. Andrew

    What I meant was some surely someone is telling Abbott to pull is head in about inflaming divisions between defence command and the soldiers?

    And I meant to make a seperate point about the need for public debate on Defence now. I know 99% of defence decisions are made in-house but the one big one we need to make now is to increase expenditure to refit our Defence force for this century. I cant imagine upping the defence spend to 3% of GDP without some public discussion.

  6. I realise that Tim, but there's nobody left to tell him to pull his head in. There's also an issue with basic gear like boots, and PTSD counselling, quite apart from over-engineered you-beaut gizmos like the next generation of submarines.

    Jez, we've reached a point where the press are as clueless as the pollies, which means the press have stopped adding value.

  7. Hello there.
    Interestingly the recent shot of TA plinking with the plastic fantastic illustrates quite well the need for reequipment in the OzArmy.
    I mentioned some of this elsewhere but the sight is obsolete, the underbarrel grenade launcher is single shot and fires ammo natures that might be sub standard for some Afghani scenarios.
    I note that the mag wasn’t full (perhaps displaying a Steyr shortcoming) and the Steyr itself has certain unresolved problems perhaps best not mentioned here.

    I reckon if TA wants to play Colonel Blimp he should emulate the actions of a certain Colonel Ferguson who purchased improved breech loading flintlocks for his regiment.
    They did quite well with their rifles in the Revolutionary war but the sad bit is that the good Colonel somehow managed to get himself bumped off.

    Don’t need to say more, do I?

  8. See my posts when Joel Fitzgibbon was first made Defence Minister - thought he'd focus on this sort of stuff, but no. Still think it's worth pursuing.

  9. David Irving (no relation)19/10/10 1:00 pm

    I always quite liked the Steyr, Calligula. Certainly a much more pleasant weapon than the Armalite, and considerably more accurate. (The safety leaves a bit to be desired though.)

    As to the mag being not quite full, I' surprised they trusted him with any live ammunition at all - I would've been dubious about giving him a water pistol on any range I was running, back in the day.

  10. Hello David Irving,
    No water pistol eh. Fair enough.

    The Steyr its defects –
    Sight elements come loose (standard integral sight)
    Sight difficult to adjust even with button tool
    S-Sight almost impossible to adjust in field
    Sight reticle adjustment screws can be adjusted past point of no return whereupon reticle cannot be returned to centre without disassembly of sight turrets.
    Camouflage face paint melts plastic stock
    Insect repellant melts plastic stock
    Plastic trigger group malfunctions in about 12 major ways
    Safety catch is definitely NOT safe (as you mentioned)
    Quick detach barrel can gall its housing in receiver
    Limited rounds fired per minute due to overheating (both S/L and Auto modes)
    Different point of impact depending upon position of foregrip
    Fully loaded magazines can be galled by rounds vibrating against mag sidewalls (in transport etc.)
    Different ammo natures can cause fouling
    Different ammo natures can cause stovepipe jams

    The Steyr, after all that (no more than I can dredge up from memory) IS reasonably accurate, can be adjusted for left hand operators – but is relatively high maintenance inasmuch as the thing needs a readily accessible spares inventory – better than issue cleaning kit – a regular supply of fresh magazines – and the correct ammo - while those opposing our grunts in a prolonged firefight better be prepared to have smoko while the Steyrs cool down.

    I’d go so far as to suggest that our team would definitely have lost it at Long Tan were they equipped with the Steyr.
    I’d suggest every ex-owner/operator of an L1A1 would agree with me.
    As to the Armalite and its funny gas system foibles – well, the septics cured the propellant problem years ago – fitted a heavier barrel on some new models, increased the rifling twist, tweaked this and that and now some marks are benchresters.

    None of which excuses the fact that what our soldiers need is a good reliable Australian designed Personal Weapon of heavier calibre.
    If Ms Gillard and/or Mr Abbott were doing their job after meeting our blokes that’s what they’d be telling Angus.