02 January 2011

Seven begged questions

In The Australian yesterday, Peter van Onselen wrote another article where he tries to sound portentous but is pretensious instead. You'll have to take my word for it as I won't link to any Oz articles: in its current Goetterdaemmerung phase there's no telling what that paper might do. What follows reflects badly, not only on PvO's lack of perspective but also the sheer delusion necessary to sustain the myth of an Abbott Liberal Government.

1. You can't just flick the switch to policy, especially not when you're Tony Abbott. Abbott has no vision for Australia other than himself in the Lodge. His whole modus operandi is to charge here, feint there, and double back again before dashing off on his bike. As an Editor, PvO has a duty to portray Abbott as he is rather than as some action figjre who can bolt on extra accessories as required. Abbott isn't a dinosaur, he just wants to restore the status quo of four years ago and doesn't care how that happens. After the so-close-but-yet-so-far election last August he can't be told that we've all moved on since then, and that you need to address what's ahead.

2. PvO has a firm grip on campaigning issues that don't matter. The Liberals didn't choose a candidate for Lindsay until tbe writs were issued, long after the ALP incumbent had been doggedly entrenching himself. In Robertson, the Liberal candidate assumed that Labor would a) re-endorse the appalling incumbent or b) split when another candidate was chosen; when neither occurred he went to water. Banks has been in the Liberal Party's sights for twenty years, yet they parachuted in some guy from the northern beaches and ran a shoestring campaign. Conclusion: local campaigns still matter.

Nutt has been State Director in four states. It's telling that Abbott can't get rid of loser Loughnane.

3. It isn't self-evident that the NBN must go. The campaign against the NBN is eerily similar to another major piece of infrastructure: a second airport for Sydney. An idea is floated, it bounces around for a while and then dies, only to be replaced by another idea that goes nowhere, etc. PvO's assertion that wireless will support medical operations goes against the experience of those of us who work on such projects.

The problem that the Coalition had last August was that their policy was rubbish - you couldn't give it away, let alone sell it. The idea that you can quibble away the NBN and replace it with some cheap-jack rubbish plays to anti-Liberal notions of arrogance and inability to handle the future.

The Liberals are often accused of doing the bidding of corporate Australia, but when it comes to broadband they have no idea. Lenin said that capitalists would sell socialists the rope with which they'd hang them; Gerry Harvey will sell you the ICT equipment with which you can access the internet and bypass retailers like Gerry Harvey. And his solution to the new paradigm is a GST holiday? Pathetic.

4. Name the duds, Peter. Kelly O'Dwyer would run rings around Sophie Mirabella. Paul Fletcher is a stuffed shirt who would have to go into a role requiring little contact with the great unwashed. Josh Frydenberg is an accident waiting to happen, as shown by his relationship with Bolt over the Wilkie papers in '03 and overstating his role at Deutsche Bank.

In terms of giving shadow ministers their heads, this is only possible with an overarching set of principles within which shadows can work. Abbott lacks this and is not a detail man either, so when a shadow runs their own race he just looks irrelevant, whether for good (e.g. Hockey on financial system regulation) or bad (e.g. David Johnson on Defence, Tony Smith on telco).

5. Hard to beat a female PM, really, especially with a leader so repellent to female voters. When PvO refers to Abbott using political capital, what does he mean (see points 2 & 6)?

6. Abbott is four seats away from government but it may as well be 40. The fact that Rudd suffered a 9% swing against him puts the lie to Queenslanders being parochial about their man. The election campaign showed Abbott is best when deployed sparingly: when he's overexposed he starts telling porkies or being sexist.

The more time he spends campaigning, the less time he has to develop policy.

7. Abbott has no clout and can't get rid of duffers. Bishop and Macfarlane should both go - Abbott tried to get rid of Wyatt Roy before the last election and failed. If Abbott tried to knock Hockey's and Robb's heads together, both would tell him to get lost - it may even destabilise his leadership. Abbott has no organisational clout and PvO is wrong to assume otherwise.

And there we have it: seven tombstones to the credibility of PvO and Abbott PM. Abbott is at the end of his tether and you need to overlook far too much in order to believe otherwise. PvO thinks he has a role as stenographer fot Liberal strategists, but you ultimately do them a favour if you question their assumptions.


  1. I agree the PVO comes across a rugby sideline male cheer leader but he has platforms (OZ FOXTEL)so right or wrong he is heard and so can become the conventional wisdom and 8 times out of 10 that becomes the prevailing condition. Plus JG is to use a term from a game I hate, a real own goaler.

  2. A person can be wrong whethrr they're a blogger or a King Of All Media. Given the loss-making Oz I would expect News Ltd to be working their people hard, but keep in mind the viewer figures would be slightly higher than for this blog.

    JG is making fewer errors these days, another assumption of PvO's that's questionable.

  3. Andrew,

    You outline many reasons why it is hard for Tony to get oer the line. However, it is a two-horse race. And even if one horse is terrible, if the other stumbles, then the first horse, no matter how bad can still get up.

    On policy, it is three years for Tony to develop three more ideas. I am sure he can develop one a year. Otherwise he will just cherrypick stuff from the Menzies Institute for the intellectual stocking fillers. And if JG doesn't find new ideas to prosecute by then, that will be electorally sufficient.

  4. Your comment re Rudd losing 9% is a bit misleading.(this was the primary swing)
    I refer you to an analysisi by mumblewits.
    As well I can tell you a number of people whilst supportive of Rudd, did not vote labor because of Julia Gillard. Also there was a bit of skullduggery by the libs in Griffith.

  5. Nice analysis. Taking your observation that, "The election campaign showed Abbott is best when deployed sparingly: when he's overexposed he starts telling porkies or being sexist.", then maybe for the next election Julia should announce a six-month campaign period with a Leaders' (real) debate every fortnight. :)

  6. Andrew wrote:

    "Abbott is best when deployed sparingly: when he's overexposed he starts telling porkies or being sexist"

    And therein, I suspect, is the reason many journalists are trying to get him into the Lodge.

    A PM cannot avoid being overexposed. The cameras and mics follow them about day and night. Under the unrelenting pressure Abbott would throw out gaffes and lies like confetti.

    Which would be a dream come true for lazy journalists. The stories would practically write themselves. No digging or "investigative journalism" required.


  7. Hillbilly Skeleton4/1/11 2:16 pm

    That should read: 'Abbott has no vision for Australia other than himself in Kiribilli House'. The Liberals don't do The Lodge as PM anymore, remember. Too declasse. Abbott would use the Howard excuse of still having a child attending a Sydney education institution as justification. Unlike Rudd, who pulled his youngest kid out of school in Brisbane and put him up in a school in Canberra, so as to go and live in The Lodge, as appropriate, historically, for our Prime Minister.

  8. Tim,

    You're relying on two things. One, Labor are not capable of lifting their performance (which they are) and the Coalition is capable of lifting its (which it isn't). I think you're wrong on both counts. Given the cracks appearing between leading personnel within the Liberals, it may not even be capable of keeping up such pressure as it is maintaining.

    I'm sure Abbott can't develop anything like three ideas. He spent four years as health minister and there's nothing to show for that policy-wise. The nearest thing there is to an idea is financial sector regulation, which is a) Hockey's baby and b) hardly going to turf out one sitting Labor MP rather than four.

    It doesn't help to think of policy as "intellectual stocking fillers". Policy development need not be prescriptive, but it's a guide to what you can expect from government. Poor judgment in Opposition will not lead to excellent judgment in government, and Coalition policy at the 2010 election was very poor indeed.

    It is one thing to overestimate your own people and underestimate the ALP, but it is another thing again to assume that a) the public are mugs and b) that the next election will be a re-run of the last one, but with a result more favourable to a complacent Opposition.

  9. Anonymous,

    Yep, you'd expect his primary vote to hold and non-Labor voters to hold their noses and vote [1] for the hometown boy, wouldn't you? Read the Mumble piece when it came out, re-read it just before this post, it basically has that Rudd held his own like any other reasonably diligent Labor MP in a reasonably safe seat.

  10. Way2,

    She should just do some grown-up governing and let Abbott dig his own hole.

  11. Cuppa,

    It's worse than that. The whole idea that his admissions of dishonesty were proof of Abbott's honesty suggests that the parliamentary press gallery should just be abolished.

  12. HS,

    You'll notice that on parliamentary sitting days during 1996-2007, Howard wasn't holed up at the YHA or even the Chifley Room at the Kurrajong. I realise the Lodge doesn't have the accommodation-synonymous-with-office thing as the White House or 10 Downing Street, but it'll do.

    Also with Abbott, and unlike with Jeanette, Mrs Abbott has a paying job in Sydney that she may not automatically give up. There are plenty of issues to discuss there and much of them were floated vis รก vis Carolyn Hewson, but nowt came of that and I wouldn't worry too much about Margie Abbott being in that position either.