24 May 2011

Hubris is one word for it

Here Niki Savva goes around like some cattle-dog, yapping and snarling in the hope that Liberals will fall into some sort of line that she doesn't set, but which she considers herself responsible for enforcing. Savva would have you believe that the current Federal situation is unique, but it isn't.

A Labor government with a slim margin that generates little apart from press releases - and a Liberal Party still smarting from being turfed from office, confident that its return is imminent with a bit of pushing. NSW 1995-9 was similar to Canberra today (and I'm not talking about the Territory Legislature). Same Labor government too timid to change much, but with a killer media strategy that the Libs tried to copy but couldn't quite.

In Canberra today the Liberal media strategy is about the same but better than Labor's: Abbott is nothing but a media tart, helped enormously by a Murdoch press that will happily apply more scrutiny to a minority party in the Senate than any of his poorly considered media stunts, which was solidly behind Carr and NSW Labor. We (as "we" were then) were beset by all manner of clowns insisting that we all had to be united behind whatever stupid notion had popped into the leader's head in time for some evanescent media announcement.
Senior Liberals are worried about how to contain an emotion as corrosive as Labor's despair, and driven by the same raw assessment of the political landscape: the government is finished, Julia Gillard has planked and the election, whenever it is held, is essentially a foregone conclusion.

The government would have been finished were it not for a workmanlike budget: not so flash that it would have aroused suspicion, not so dull that it proved Labor could no longer be bothered. It would be finished if the Opposition were not led by one of the few political leaders less popular than Julia Gillard. It would be finished if clowns like Mark Arbib, Paul Howes or those no-marks from Victoria's Labor Right started to raise their profiles.
The smarter operators in the Coalition are acutely aware of the threat hubris poses, first from younger, ambitious MPs who fret that victory will shunt them even further back so they have to try harder to get attention, and second from older MPs (who should know better) who think it's OK to act up, and worry even more than their younger colleagues that time will pass them by.

Seriously, this is bullshit.

Abbott, both Bishops, Kevin Andrews, are all about a Howard Restoration: the idea that they can and will take the country back to 2006 and keep it there. Lose the next election and that dead crust gets scraped off the Liberal Party. As to the "younger ones", some may not know what to do without adult supervision - things may get a bit Lord Of The Flies if Tony Smith, Sophie Mirabella and Mitch Fifield start calling the shots, but they're all from the wrong state. None of them have the stomach for patricide nor the alternative vision that post-Fraser Liberals had.

Maybe the Liberal Party chose the wrong future for itself. They thought they were so clever in bumping up Howard government staffers to the frontline in order to perpetuate the Howard government mindset. Instead, they face the prospect of being represented by a lost generation of drones.

Then of course there are those reprehensible "older MPs" like Mal Washer who stands for greater restrictions on tobacco advertising, which is more than his so-called leader stands for.
Hubris had already manifested in a variety of less troublesome ways, whether it was people jostling for seats or people hanging on to them just so no one else could have them, like Alby Schultz, who boasted to The Canberra Times that his recent heart operation had extended his life span by another 15 to 20 years and that he had no intention of retiring. Take that, evil contenders.

Worse, there is nobody with the leverage to push Schultz out. There is ample scope for a Labor person or an independent to beaver away over the next two to three years and take a very nice seat in Federal Parliament. A Liberal or National could knock him off now, if one could be found with a bit of drive and who could manage the sensitivities of paying due respect to a sick old man with no record other than getting re-elected - good luck in finding someone to fit that bill. Where are you, Bob Cotton?
Meanwhile Cory Bernardi still thinks it's OK to blog whatever pops into his head, including criticising the first bloke Tim Mathieson, in defiance of the usual practice that spouses and partners of other MPs are off limits.

This is fair enough. Liberals squealed like stuck pigs whenever someone had a go at nasty old Hyacinth Bucket Jeanette Howard, and they'd do the same if anyone bothered to go after Margie Abbott (and why would you? She's the only socially useful member of that household). Turnbull and other Liberals looked sleazy and stupid when they went after Therese Rein, and as for Gillard her domestic and reproductive situation is so similar to that of Julie Bishop that you'd think they would lay off.
Then along came Malcolm Turnbull, who is in much the same place - emotionally and figuratively - as Kevin Rudd. Turnbull actually did everybody in the Coalition a favour by reminding them that just a little prick can burst a bubble.

"A little prick can burst a bubble" was a line that Peter Costello used to hiss at anyone who did anything he didn't like. What that misses is the idea that anyone can blow a bubble and create enough hot air to keep it afloat, and that however much blowing bubbles can impress the simple-minded it is not that much of an achievement in itself - you're simply not entitled to carry on when they burst. It's a nasty and meaningless line, befitting all who deploy it because it shows they don't think about what they say.

Having misdiagnosed Turnbull's behaviour, Savva proclaims herself savvy as to his emotional state. It's fair to suspect that her judgment may be off there too.
The weekend leaking ... Initially suspicion fell on Hockey ... Then blame settled on the few remaining Turnbull supporters ...

Oh, please. A senior journalist and a senior adviser reduced to both tittle and tattle. This person is not worth feeding, let alone reading.
If someone held a gun to your head to force you to choose which one of them was likelier to make a comeback, you would have to go for Rudd. Not because he is better than Turnbull but because Labor is in much much worse shape than the Coalition and the alternatives to Rudd-Gillard are weaker.

A silly statement needs some silly assumptions, and the gun-to-the-head thing is an example of the sort of silly Canberra bar talk you'd get from people like Savva and Lachlan Harris. Rudd doesn't have a deal with independent MPs that is holding his party in government: only Gillard has that. The Liberals will do anything to get back into office - if they think they can do so with Tony Abbott as leader he'll stay, but if Turnbull is the man then Turnbull it will be. It's simple as that. If bubbles have to be burst then they'll be burst, Niki.
Even so, feelings about Turnbull are not as visceral or as vicious as they are among Labor MPs towards Rudd.

Given the importance of the emotional in Savva's writings, she's just buggered her own thesis.
A few Liberals speak fondly of Turnbull, even though his dramatic weight loss (13kg thanks to a lemon detox diet) has left him looking a bit hang-dog, or perhaps that's just the internal reflected in the external.

If you can't make a bitchy comment about make-up, make a bitchy comment about weight and diet, rounded off with another pseudo-psychological imputation. Is there no end to this bitch highly respected doyenne of the Parliamentary press gallery?
Turnbull, intelligent and engaging, is a man born out of his time. He belongs in Renaissance Florence, rebuilding cities and states, commissioning great works of art, fostering literary and political talent, all according to his own whims and preferences.

The most common complaint by those who served under him is that Turnbull would not take advice and found it impossible to control his temper.

His arrogance and refusal to suffer fools - a prerequisite for any political leader has cost him dearly.

Which is it - is he intelligent and engaging or can he not suffer fools? Didn't Menzies have the same problem? Would you really bet on Turnbull being unable to modify himself against Abbott lifting his game? Really? They're valid points, but hardly insurmountable.
Plus his frequent need to remind everyone he is a man (probably the last one standing) of principle, as he did again on ABC1's Lateline on Wednesday night, infuriates them.

The fact that he can Turnbull's beliefs on the environment can be defended as a coherent whole more adequately than the Coalition's current policy is what's infuriating. If the current leader had the intellectual heft and coherence that Turnbull has, he'd just be a crank. Turnbull can't be patronised: bared teeth and snarling can betoken fear as much as hostility.
Gillard and the Greens, who if they believed in prayer would beg for Turnbull's resurrection ...

Resurrection is pretty strong power, even Turnbull's most ardent supporters don't think he's capable of that.

Seriously though, the public - outside Canberra and the bars that fill up on sitting weeks - want Rudd and Turnbull leading the major parties. Why would Gillard want the Liberals to be led by someone who's more popular than she is? It doesn't make sense, it's like the tobacco industry warning that consumption of their product going up would be a bad thing. It's why Niki Savva isn't much chop as a political analyst.
Most Labor voters would prefer to see Turnbull in the job, but when you ask them if this would induce them to vote for the Liberals, almost all of them say no.

As one Liberal observed: "Labor voters think if there has to be a Liberal Party and it has to have a leader, then it should be Malcolm."

Most Labor voters don't count - only some do, the ones who only vote Labor sometimes. They're called swinging voters, Niki. Have you met any of them? Swinging voters are the people who turn Labor governments into Liberal ones, or vice versa. Swinging voters would vote Liberal if Malcolm Turnbull were leader, which is why it's in the best interests of the Liberal Party for Turnbull to become leader - once he has learned to take advice, or create the appearance of doing so like Abbott does.
Turnbull cannot renounce his views. Nor should he. But he should have known his wanton disparaging of Abbott's climate-change policy would have repercussions.The fact he later appeared to have no appreciation of the damage he had caused to himself or the Coalition was revealing.

Some issues are more important than the current leader. John Howard used to shirtfront leaders other than himself all the time: his treatment of the leader who gave him his biggest break, Malcolm Fraser, was particularly brutal. As long as Turnbull can dress this up as a cause bigger than himself - just like Costello's bridgewalk for Aboriginal reconciliation - he'll be all right.

Besides, what damage? Abbott's solid, untouchable, the inevitable next PM, right Niki? Right?
He could have maintained the principled position that has won him respect in the community and still not put down his own party's policy.

How? How could he have avoided the thousand questions from journos wanting to write the same Walkley-worthy scoop LIBS SPLIT SHOCK? Come on, Media Strategist Extraordinare, how exactly would that have been possible?
If it was deliberate, it was plain dumb, and if it wasn't deliberate it was even dumber. Either way the poor judgment again exposes a potentially fatal flaw for a man who wants to lead a political party and be prime minister.

In the week before the 1993 election John Howard flatly contradicted his leader, John Hewson, on interest rates. At the next election, Howard was leader and was elected Prime Minister. No election is imminent, and Turnbull is at least as dumb as Howard (if "dumb" is the word to use here).
If Abbott falls before the election, which is unlikely, or if he is defeated at the election, which is always possible, then even those who had stayed loyal to Turnbull to the bitter end, and it was extremely bitter, are unlikely to back a leadership bid by him.

The same could have been said about Howard at any point 1989-95.
In fact the man now most likely to succeed Abbott, assuming the vacancy occurs later rather than sooner, is Turnbull's former very good friend, Scott Morrison.

Oh, piss off. A smarmy turd who wants to run with the racists and climate-deniers while disavowing them - seriously, Alexander Downer or Brendan Nelson or even Gillard are up there with Pericles against such a man as Scott bloody Morrison. Nobody would or should believe he wouldn't screw his best friend, if he had one, for momentary advantage. Canberra scuttlebutt just doesn't translate to the real world, and particularly marginal electorates.
They reckon public hostility to the carbon tax is so embedded it will continue all the way through the election. Even seasoned political operators have been taken aback by the intensity of feelings expressed by voters on the rising cost of living.

Voters believe the government won't help them because it lacks the resources or can't because it is so incompetent.

Niki, Niki, the GST. You were there, remember?

Niki Savva is hopeless as an analyst, but she has her uses in exposing the desperation from eighth-rate hacks who call themselves "strategists",who refuse to face up to real policy issues and tailor their responses to the real electorate/ economy/ society/ country before them. A scare campaign against the carbon tax and refugees is pretty much the entire Liberal offering. To preserve that precious offering, you need to nobble Turnbull before he has the chance to offer something more and leave said "strategists" out in the Canberra cold. Savva fears that Turnbull offers what the country would need at a time - like Florence during the Renaissance, for example - when so much is in flux, where opportunities and pitfalls abound, and where just being a prick is a necessary start to keep on top of it all. Read your Machiavelli, Niki - Turnbull has.


  1. Great read! I confess Savva aggravated me so enormously when I saw her on Insiders once I avoid her entirely now, bit having her 'analysis' interleaved with your rebuttals makes it more fun.

    Incredible that she seems to believe Turnbull regaining the leadership would be an electoral fillip for the ALP, it would be their worst nightmare, as you say!

    I see why Costello was outfoxed at every turn by Howard, if this is the quality of adviser he employed!

  2. Wonderful insight and writing Andrew! Bravo. I will be re-reading this daily for weeks to come and when the 'official' campaigning kicks off for the next Federal Australian election.

    I look forward to reading more such reviews from you in the future.

    This is one of the best, insightful political commentaries I have read this decade. And I'm reading biographies / autobiographies at the moment by Paul Kelly (March of the Patriots), Lindsay Tanner (Sideshow) Pauline Hanson (Untamed & Unashamed), John Howard (Lazarus Rising), I've read Gough Whitlam's 1977 memoirs (E. G. Whitlam on the Constitution) and I'm looking forward to reading Malcolm Fraser's memoirs (co-written with Margaret Simmons) and Julian Assange's autobiography (The World versus Wikileaks) next month.

    I've also cried, LOL'ed and ROFL'ed through #JuliaGillard MHR's propaganda sop ('The Making of Julia Gillard') and I'm actively doing and writing the sequel - THE UNMAKING OF JULIA GILLARD (amongst other writing achievements and projects)...

    I have no personal opinion on Nikki Savas (though I am grossly disappointed at the soapy propaganda and minimalist nuggets of truth, that passes for 'news' in the @Australian - though today's, 24th May 2011 @Australian contained 6+ stories of exposing political corruption throughout our sorry and broken country - broken parliament, broken media, broken justice, broken economy.

    Andrew, I would love to see you writing on some of my core political pledges - you can research them on http:www.twitter.com/JamesJohnsonCHR under hashtags #ConstitutionalSwindle #FamilyLawFail #RunForSenate #AusNewFederalism #JuliaGillardMHR.

    Once again, Bravo. And, like the mighty Gough once said - "maintain the rage [cobber]."

    James Johnson
    Independent Federal Candidate for Lalor
    Constitutional Human Rights Activist
    Solicitor and Barrister of the High Court of Australia
    (Celebrating 20 Years of Legal Practice 1990 - 2010)




  3. Andrew

    Good piece again.

    Even Gerard Henderson in the SMH yesterday mentioned Scott Morrison as a potential leader, more likely to get up than Turnbull, so what is going on with the background briefings do you think?

    If the australian electorate is best represented by the shire then maybe we deserve Morrison, but I can't see it myself.

    Turnbull is just biding his time for the Abbott bluster to be shown for the empty (and losing) rhetoric it always has been. It may take a while for the message to get through however.

  4. Johnny Rotten25/5/11 6:31 pm

    "A scare campaign against the carbon tax and refugees is pretty much the entire Liberal offering." It will all end in tears when the punters finally wake up that (a) Abbott's 'plan' is to screw them and use their taxes to pay off polluters (b) the Libs's overblown rhetoric plays a major role in aiding the criminals here and oversease that are behind people smuggling

  5. Lachlan Ridge25/5/11 6:59 pm

    Thanks goodness for Andrew Elder, who is a major voice in this country for keeping sane anyone who has an IQ big enough to put their pants on the right way around. A quality sadly lacking in most people passing themselves off as "commentators". I sent the piece on Crabb/Benson et al to the good Mr Marius. Unfortunately he appears to be too busy fact checking and seeking independent authorities to verify claimns within press releases, or so it seems. Or maybe he just thinks his poor dumb listeners seem unworthy of respose (unlike the good Mr Elder).

    I agree with my friend in Sydney. If it is ever needed then we should all help defray the costs of any medical services Mr Elder may need in the future - he is truly a living Australian icon.

    I wonder, Mr Elder, what you make from our political correspondents' seeming indifference to the looming threat posed by a slowdown in the Chinese economy? Certainly the smartest men in the room seem to be shorting the Australian banks with alacrity. Given this nation spent a brazillion to keep those four pillars of virtue solvent by doling out largesse to anyone with a mortgage and a ute or van with a lader on the roof, I remain curious as to what plan B would be if suddenly the magic pudding in the Kimberley disappeared? Surely this should focus the minds of our oracles at Manuka and Kinston?

    I remain an avid reader.

  6. Thanks Andrew.

    Very kind, James - er, better post more often then.

    PeterH, Morrison is a thought bubble. I remember when there was a similar buzz around Bronwyn Bishop. It'll pass. Turnbull is right to demonstrate that he's a man who can handle complex thought.

    Couldn't agree more, Johnny.

    Lachlan, Marius is a broadcaster: he's geared to transmit, not receive.

    In terms of Plan B, the model is the way California and Texas used their oil revenue to invest in education, so that they had a basis for their economies once the oil ran out.

    You're very kind.

  7. I'm not going to be quite as kind. We all see the world through our own biases, and you're no exception. What you're missing (or perhaps just want to avoid talking about) is that Abbott's popular because the Federal Labor government is just plain incompetent. They have a long string of policy failures from fuel watch, grocery watch etc through to the Timor solution. Don't make me list them all, there are lists online.

    That's not going to change. They're not suddenly going to become competent. Therefore, they are toast.

    Second, there are two major differences between the GST and the Carbon Tax.
    Difference one. When Howard changed his mind, he called an election to seek a fresh mandate on his new position, and campaigned on it. He didn't promise no GST then, once elected, go "sorry! changed my mind now."
    Difference two. The carbon tax is specifically designed to destroy jobs (in certain sectors). There's no getting around that fact.

    Third point. Leftwingers always complain when the public goes conservative that it must be Murdoch. You give people too little credit. But then, this widespread belief in Murdoch's power underlines the Left's faint commitment to democracy. The masses are too dumb, too easily manipulated, to be allowed so much power (the sentiment goes). I disagree.

    I do agree that the "prick" comment was nasty and unwarranted.

  8. What I try to do Heinlein is adjust my biases to reality, rather than the other way around.

    You said that Abbott is popular, and he isn't. You can have your biases, but the fact is he's less popular than Gillard. There would be a Liberal government tomorrow if Turnbull, Hockey or Julie Bishop were to replace him.

    Gillard isn't running a perfect government. It reminds me of the stumblebum effort Howard ran in 1996-8. Laurie Oakes said that Howard made every mistake in the book but only made them once: I think this lot are making a few mistakes but making some achievements too. Fuel watch etc are teething problems, and the leader responsible has since been dumped.

    The absence of Liberal policy is, in a way, a backhanded compliment to Rudd-Gillard (much as Fraser kept Aboriginal land rights legislation and no-fault divorce despite what he might have interpreted as a mandate to dump both). You said "they're not suddenly going to become competent", but a not-as-bad-as-we-thought carbon tax changes all that. They only have to be better than the competition.

    It's that absence of policy that makes me think you're mistaken, Heinlein. The Libs don't deserve the benefit of the doubt, even though they think they do.

    You said: "[Howard] didn't promise no GST then, once elected, go "sorry! changed my mind now." Yes he did - he was elected in 1996 with the third-biggest mandate ever, changed his mind and scraped back in in '98. I was there, saw the whole thing. That's exactly what happened. Gillard will go to the polls in 2013 with the carbon tax in place and for every person opening a vein there will be five who say - hey, this isn't so bad.

    Yep, the carbon tax is a bit like winding back tariffs - jobs lost here, jobs made possible there that are not economically possible today. Hawke and Keating were re-elected in the face of a changing economy, and so was Howard.

    "Leftwingers always complain when the public goes conservative that it must be Murdoch. You give people too little credit." No I don't. I don't think Murdoch or any of his people are that influential in the wider community, however much they scare some 'insiders'. Murdoch tends to follow rather than lead. Go back through this blog and find the place where I've portrayed Murdoch as some sort of puppetmaster. We'll have none of your straw-man work here.