12 July 2011

A done deal

This article made me laugh. The Prime Minister went to western Sydney to talk with people while Tony Abbott hung out with some Coalition MPs, News Ltd journos and mining execs - and somehow it's Gillard seeking a "tame audience".
Mr Abbott said the tax was a bad deal for Australians, but one that should not be assumed to be a "done deal".
Maybe he'll just wave it through like he did a fortnight ago, when Tony Smith left him having to pass measures he had apparently opposed. I wouldn't put it past him at all.
He said there was unhappiness in the Labor caucus over the deal, because it had the Greens' fingerprints all over it.

"There is a lot of unhappiness in the (Labor) caucus," Mr Abbott told the Nine Network today.

"This is not a tax package that was approved by the caucus, it's a tax package that was approved by the Greens and the independents."
How would he know? This is the Minchin trick of silencing Libs' internal divisions through projection onto the blank face of Labor.

Now if this came from Doug Cameron or even "a senior government source", it might have some credibility. It would even have some credibility coming from some old-timey Labor historian (other than Bob Ellis) who still wrings their hands over union picnic days or the N40 rule. Why would anyone take it on face value - particularly someone who admits to making stuff up in "the heat of debate" - that the leader of the Liberal Party has some new-found respect for the proper procedures of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party? Have journalists given up on fact-checking or unscripted, follow-up questions?

It's one thing for Tele journos to doorknock a street in western Sydney. It's quite another for them to hunt down those mysterious Labor caucus members ready to cross the floor against the whole reorientation of taxes and benefits around carbon emissions. While they're at it, they could hunt down all those closet monarchists in the ALP who Abbott swore were there and apparently tearing that party apart during the 1999 republic referendum.
But tax cuts paid for by tax increases means the government will create a "money-go-round", Mr Abbott said.

"We believe in tax cuts, but we believe in genuine tax cuts, not tax cuts that are paid for by tax increases," he said.

"It's just a money-go-round."
All tax cuts are and were paid for by bracket creep, or some unanticipated windfall. What's different about this is that the windfall is anticipated and the benefits targeted better than the sort of dumb backwash favoured by Howard-Costello tax cuts. No examination of past cuts by the Tele, no examination of Abbott's ability to balance the budget and cut taxes at the same time (given his arithmetical problems last time).
Mr Abbott said the tax was a "dumb way" to reduce emissions and he welcomed a debate with the prime minister on the issue.
Not long ago he said it was simple, now it's "dumb"? It's one thing for Abbott to have credibility issues, but for the Tele to just report what he says uncritically makes his issue theirs.
"Julia Gillard runs away from debate in the parliament every other day," he said.

"If she wants a debate, please, please, bring it on, make my day!"
The trouble with this is that the word 'debate' has no meaning any more.

First, so-called leaders' debates on television before election campaigns are just joint press conferences. The leaders don't engage with one another and every word is scripted, so that any back-and-forth demonstrating mental agility and depth of conviction under stress simply never happens. Second, Abbott 'debates' in much the same way that war criminals in The Hague 'co-operate with the court' - filibustering harangues full of abuse and warmed-over lines from gruntback radio. Gillard is right to flee that shit and get to work; she should do it more often.

As for Abbott, you can hear his plea: please give me some relevance, please.

The other problem with 'debate' is that Abbott has nothing to offer. His environmental policy should be called "dire CT action"; it has so disgraced its nominal shadow minister, Greg Hunt, that his credibility is pretty much shot. Why play poker with a guy who has no money, no cards, and who won't even deign to sit at the table?
Ms Gillard strode straight to [the] home [of] carbon tax supporters Craig and Michelle Cochrane and their three children. She was invited in for tea and biscuits as the Cochranes sang the praises of the tax.

But managing to find a pro-carbon tax family on her very first try was not the stroke of amazing luck it seemed to be. The family was hand-picked after Ms Gillard turned to local Lindsay MP David Bradbury to find "average people" in the community she would want to meet.
Why would they print the Cochrane's address? Only subs or news editors schooled in the News of the World school of journalistic ethics would do that. Did the Cochranes really sing to the Prime Minister; or are they just the sort of people who are polite to visitors, especially those holding high office and accompanied by cameras? Did the Tele pinch any photos from the Cochrane's mantlepiece or bug their phones?
"We were initially worried when we heard about another tax, but we did our homework and found we were going to be better off financially under the package," Mr Cochrane said. "We want to do what's right for our children and our children's children."
Like most people, the Cochranes are looking for digestible information about complex issues. The value proposition of the media used to be that they provided this essential public service to people like them, and you, and me. Normally, you'd expect the Tele to provide such a service to people like the Cochranes - but it and the other dysfunctional media organs are so busy beating up non-stories that the Cochranes had no choice but to go to their MP and get sheaves of information from him - information that is provided to the media, but which they ignore in pursuit of, um, declining sales and credibility. I got my info on the carbon tax online from Grog, amongst others.

You'll note that the piece ends on an oddly neutral note, even a hopeful one. When you read that, along with this and this and this, you get the distinct impression that News Ltd in Australia is starting to reverse the ferret. Having pursued Gillard over the spectre of a carbon tax, the fact that the government has come out with a proposal that is moderate and acceptable to all but the most barking-mad climate change deniers - and which puts it in a position that may well be politically viable in 2013 - the once fierce creatures of the Murdoch press are pulling their punches.

Having copped a few losses abroad, and facing an opponent who won't lie down and let them kick her, News Ltd seem to regard the government in a new light. They seem to have given up on the idea that Gillard (the first PM since McMahon not to become PM with the blessing of the mainstream media) has to accommodate herself to the media; they are starting to get used to the idea that maybe they have to get used to her. This is not good news for Tony Abbott.

True, Abbott has chalked up yet another poll lead over Gillard and the government; but it looks to be what economists call a leading indicator. Strong governments sometimes shift the ground on which political debate takes place, and it would appear that the Gillard government has done that with the carbon tax, so could it mean ... nah. Surely not.

Abbott has done what you'd expect a wannabe-PM to do: sucked up hard to the mainstream media, especially News Ltd, which is starting to crumble like some eastern European dictatorship: first slowly, now very quickly. Mini-mogul Lachlan Murdoch can't help himself, his father or brother or his mad-haired sister-from-another-mother, what hope does Abbott have? Fairfax can't save themselves either; the best they can offer is a sheltered workshop for Ross Cameron and John Ruddick within their increasingly empty offices. Kerry Packer is dead and his son has left the family business behind, but every cent he has was made off the back of a government concession: when Jamie Packer claimed that Gillard was "anti-business", Gillard should have laughed.

Australian politics isn't quite over the mainstream media, but the media moguls have had their day. The idea that public office was rented from media proprietors in return for public-policy concessions, an idea that has been indispensable for understanding politics in Australia for the past fifty years, no longer holds. The winner of the 2013 election will get this and act accordingly; no Liberal does, apparently. Liberals love it when their aspirants Tick All The Boxes but when the ground shifts from under this can just look stale, unimaginative and even irrelevant. Abbott has Ticked All The Boxes - but why does he sound so flat, so hollow this week in a way that he didn't before Sunday.

The model that has made Abbott possible is starting to disintegrate. Gillard has come up with a policy which, if it fails, will be the end of her. He needs to lift one last time to knock over that one policy, but the Senate has shifted (4 Liberal Senators replaced by 4 Green Senators - moderate liberals repulsed by Abbott) and a lifetime of sucking up to media moguls and press gallery hacks alike provides exactly no payoff when he needs it most. In the carbon tax debate, Gillard is vulnerable but Abbott is stuffed.


  1. I will continue from time to time to link your great articles on the Facebook page "Tony Abbott will never be Prime Minister" which reaches an audience of over 5,600. More people need to read your work!

  2. Good article as always.

    I think old Mr Abbot's got a breather though. The Carbon Tax won't start till July 2012, which gives Tony 12 months to bleat about how it's going to destroy the economy and send "ordinary working families" (you knowm the ones earning 150K plus) to the wall. A lot can happen in a year, Mr Abbot might get replaced, Ms Gillard might get replaced, a by-election could force a new election, or the carbox tax bill might be dropped (it's happened before).

    I'm not betting on the horse learning to sing, but from Mr Abbots perspective, it's the only bet worth taking.

    Please shoot this theory down, I'm starting to have nightmares about Prime Minister Abbot :-(.

  3. Excellent points. And, of course, when the good old NBN is fully on-line, the "main-stream" media is going to look sick as a parrot. Indeed, because there will be so much competition on-line for "content", Foxtel will start losing money hand over fist. Labor's 50 year war with the conservative press will be over, ending in Victory.

  4. Dave, the problem for old tone is that the expectation of something bad happening is usually at lot worse than the eventuality. That is what a lot of people are now finding out about the Carbon Tax. Indeed, even people who don't like it probably won't thank Tone for continually revisiting the issue. They're tired of it and want to put it behind them.

    I think Tone is going to increasingly look like a loser, and nobody likes electing a loser. whereas Julia may, through suffering and pluck, gain the legitimacy and respect she has it seems)lacked to date.

  5. MvM: thank you.

    Dave: journalists have stated to ask if he has any policies, but Tone likes to keep things loose so he can dance around. I've always thought the high Lib polling was very soft, and suspect that this will become clear as ministers step up and just want to get on with the job. Abbott will be replaced before Gillard, because there is a viable alternative in Turnbull - but Turnbull has to do the ashes-n-sackcloth first, a bit like Hawke giving up drinking.

    Anon1: as with 1989, it is unclear what the victors will win.

    Anon2: once it's passed it won't be an issue, that's where TA becomes untenable.

  6. Anon2: Andrew, it is true that it will be a while before the full implications of the NBN sink in. Foxtel will do everything it can, in particular, to get a mortgage on sports rights as far in to the future as possible. But I think even that market will segment and become niche. Why pay $130 a month to foxtel for a whole package that is, mostly, totally useless when you can just get the individual games of the teams you support for a lot less? At the moment, I can watch my favourite team (Barcelona FC) on live-stream for nothing. Can't tell you how uninterested I've become in Rugby Union and the other sports that Foxtel has locked up. Goodness, I don't see why, on the NBN, individual political parties won't have their own TV stations, etc etc.