22 January 2012

Drifting helplessly

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?

- Gordon Lightfoot The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Laurie Oakes has finally tumbled to the idea that Abbott is unsuitable as Prime Minister, but not because of his sense of humour. Abbott is only propped up as a credible leader by the press gallery because it intensifies pressure on Gillard; his strengths are magnified and lauded and his shortcomings are glossed over. The archives of this blog show intense frustration at the prevalence of this senseless position, but I had underestimated just how much the gallery need a strong opponent for a Prime Minister who doesn't need them. Once you realise there's no real pressure being exerted on Gillard, Abbott isn't much of a stalking horse. Oakes is one of the first to call time on him.
TONY Abbott's quip in his Adelaide FM radio interview on Thursday had the hosts hooting with mirth.

The Opposition Leader, greatly amused by his own wit, joined in the laughter.

But Liberal minders worthy of their salt would have recoiled in horror, recognising it as one of those moments that raise the question: "Is Abbott fit to be prime minister?"
Well Laurie, use your extensive contacts on both sides of politics: were there any? Never mind "would have", how about what these people actually did? Anyone on deep, deep background who wanted to express their revulsion at the very idea any Liberal leader would make such a comment? For a third of a century until 2007, if any leader of the Liberal Party other than John Howard had said such a thing, you can be sure it would have been rebuked by John Howard in the name of Decency, Fair Play and Propriety.
He treated the tragedy [of the Costa Concordia] as a joke. It is hard to think of anything grubbier.

The incident brought to mind previous Abbott lapses of judgment, particularly in the 2007 election campaign.
Oh, there have been plenty since then Laurie, plenty. Every time he's replied to a foreign dignitary addressing Parliament on Australia's place in the world, Abbott sniggers about pink batts and carbon tax - as if he'd do any better. One slip by "Stinky" Gambaro looks like an accident, but two reeks of some sort of sneaky having-it-both-ways tactic by her 'leader', and the Laurie Oakeses of this world should call him on it.
Many of us thought Abbott had grown up since then.
Based on what? Seriously, are those who observe Abbott at close quarters and report on his doings to the rest of us as stupid as this?
Earlier in the week, though, Abbott had given a stunning demonstration of what has made him so successful since taking over the Liberal leadership.

Returning from holidays, he weighed into the debate over Julia Gillard's apparent backing away from her agreement with independent Andrew Wilkie on poker machine reform.

And he went unerringly to the Prime Minister's greatest weakness - her credibility.

"It looks like the Prime Minister is about to doublecross Andrew Wilkie on this, just like she's doublecrossed the Australian people over the carbon tax," he said.

Whack! When it comes to delivering a clear, brutal and effective message, Abbott has no rivals in Australian politics today.
That's also Abbott's central weakness, credibility.

There is no evidence that Abbott gives a damn about pokie addicts: not in the above quote or anywhere else. The clubs play both the ALP and the Liberals off an even break, and with Liberal governments in the two most pokie-infested states there is no way an Abbott government would have done even the little that Gillard is doing. Abbott promised $1 billion for a new hospital in Hobart, and that would have disappeared into a Labor Black Hole too. I'm totally ready to hear Abbott talk about what a double-crosser Gillard or whoever else may be, provided we keep in mind this is Tony Abbott we're talking about here. Whack indeed, Laurie Oakes: that's the sound of one of Abbott's boomerangs returning to his own silly bonce.
Despite the obvious dislike of Gillard that emerges in poll after poll, Australians have serious doubts about handing Abbott the keys to The Lodge ... This matters because, while many issues will drive federal politics this year, the leadership question will be crucial.

At this stage, Gillard's problems in that area are certainly more obvious and more serious than Abbott's.
No, they're about the same. Both positives an negatives for Gillard and Abbott are about the same. Abbott can whack Gillard all he likes but it only reinforces the fact that he has no more idea than she does. He's going to back the pokie palaces over the pokie addicts, and he's going to keep up donations to the car industry.

The voters baulked as one in the first week of the 2010 election campaign at the prospect of Tony Abbott PM, and there has been no movement at all in favour of himself or his party. Opposition Leaders who become PM - Laurie Oakes has seen four come and go in his time - all have popularity ratings ahead of their parties, so that they drag candidates over the line based on their personal appeal. Opposition Leaders who lose elections - Oakes has seen a fair few of them too - have popularity ratings behind their party, so that their party drains its goodwill by propping up a dud.

Gillard's the incumbent, and incumbent PMs have the advantage of being able to say, for a while at least: I don't care if you like me or not, I make the tough decisions and get things done. Tony Abbott makes no tough decisions and his adolescent stunts show that he should not be entrusted with any. The Opposition Leader who hasn't got what it takes to become PM is wasting everybody's time, including his own. Not to mention Laurie Oakes'.
She is not trusted, largely as a result of the broken "no carbon tax" election promise.
She is not trusted by the press gallery because she's the first Prime Minister since McMahon who got the job without duchessing the press gallery first. 24 hours before she became Prime Minister, none of the scoophounds in the press gallery had any inkling such a move as on the cards. All this "Rudd poised to strike" crap since has been an exercise in the press gallery fighting the last war rather than reporting what's going on now (the elevation of Peter Slipper to Speaker showed that 'insider journalism' has its limits - which is bad news for Laurie Oakes, a doyen of 'insider journalism' if ever there was one.
And she is seen as weak, primarily because of the compromises made necessary by a hung parliament.
All politicians make compromises, whether they have the sort of majority Malcolm Fraser had in his first two terms or the sort of majority that Barry O'Farrell has now. The News Ltd line on Gillard is that she is weak, so that's what Laurie Oakes in the Herald-Sun focuses on.
Her new communications director, John McTernan, former adviser to the Blair government in Britain, penned an interesting column for a London newspaper before joining Gillard's office late last year.

"Ease and authority. That is what counts in modern leadership," he wrote.

"Do you look and act like a leader?"

Well, his new charge does not look and act like a leader. She has never appeared at ease as PM, and still exudes little authority after 18 months in the job.

So McTernan has his work cut out.
Toward the ends of their terms, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had 'ease and authority' to burn. At that stage it just looked like they didn't get it. Few people affect a more easy manner than Abbott; and as you can see it takes only a couple of chuckleheads from Adelaide to drain away what little authority he has. Gillard shows all the ease of someone who can't avoid dealing with people whom she knows can never and will never give her a fair hearing, or will filter it through an unworthy opponent.
But some pundits suggest the PM has started the new year looking stronger because of the way she has taken charge of the poker machine issue and moved to get out from under the Wilkie deal.

Certainly this has gone down well in the Labor caucus, where concern had been growing over the electoral damage being caused by the pokies controversy.

And if the caucus is happier, the prospects of a leadership change - in particular, of a Kevin Rudd comeback - will recede.
No, "some pundits" are trying to cover for a leader who has not only gone back on a promise made to one MP, but who has raised and dashed the hopes of vulnerable people. Helping pokie addicts was of a piece with the payrise granted to underpaid casual jobs which tend to attract women in disproportionate numbers, namely the sort of thing you'd expect from a Labor government. Now she's kicked that can down the road, and hopefully she can make a better case for action that helps people once the data from the ACT is in.
Gillard knows she has to lift her game, and if she forgets it McTernan will be there to remind her.

But it is not so clear that Abbott sees the need for improvement.
More to the point Laurie, which is more likely to lift their game? Which is more capable of lifting their game? Abbott is running at full clip whereas Gillard is idling. Gillard's supporters are frustrated while Abbott's are quite satisfied that their guy is doing the best that could be expected of him - even exceeding expectations for many. Why should he lift his game? How could he lift his game? You see the problem here - anyone who ever thought Tony Abbott was more than just another boofhead and serious PM material is, and always has been, kidding themselves.


On a similar theme, and as with most articles for The Australian, this article is like a badly poured beer, you have to go down past the froth-and-bubble until you find the real substance:
... Mr Abbott said he would expect the Navy to turn boats heading for Australia back to Indonesia if that was their point of departure.

"These are Indonesian flagged boats with Indonesian crews from Indonesian ports with people who have been residents in Indonesia," Mr Abbott said.

"There is no place for them in Australia, but there is a place for them in Indonesia."
Abbott kyboshed the Malaysia deal because it isn't a signatory to UN conventions on refugees. Indonesia isn't a signatory either. Ean should have asked him about that instead of just making sure that he transcribed the press release accurately.

Abbott is seriously proposing that the Royal Australian Navy abandon people at sea to die. Nobody joins the Navy in order to do that. Dealing with refugee boats for the sake of chucklehead politicians is the least favourite part of naval personnel jobs; it may explain why the RAN is finding it hard to recruit and keep its people. There are no votes whatsoever in this proposal; nobody who voted Labor in 2010 will vote Liberal on the back of this.

Defence personnel vote Coalition more than any other occupational group. When I saw this (filter out the responses and look to what the Minister actually said; this is how the ABC does news now), I thought that Smith was being crazy-brave in taking on the ADF culture of cover-up, where every incidence of inappropriate behaviour is "rotten-apple" rather than "rotten-barrel" stuff. He could well be onto something. If Labor's Smith wants to take on the dead weights, dead-beats and deadshits atop the ADF, while Abbott wants to use them as a backdrop for partisan politics and abandon people at sea against maritime traditions older than modern Australia, a key Coalition demographic may shift in ways that the pundits may not anticipate.

This is where future Coalition MPs will find it hard to crawl from the impending wreckage that Abbott will bring upon his party. Nobody has condemned or even laughed off this pathetic strutting at the expense of people's lives - not least those of RAN personnel. By then Abbott will "fall overboard" in plenty of time and come up OK, just like the captain of the Costa Concordia.

Tony Abbott is not a strong opponent for Gillard; she has shown how to wear him down, slowly and methodically, as she has throughout her term. Abbott is not a strong opponent because he's not a serious alternative; almost nothing would get better for our country were he Prime Minister instead of Gillard. People want proof to the contrary, and if there were any Gillard would be finished. The story the press gallery should be telling us on Abbott versus Gillard is the one they can't bear to face: the incumbent who disdains the press gallery has it all over the Stunt Man who makes the press gallery feel worthwhile. Whack, Laurie Oakes! Whack, Ean Higgins! Whack, marginal-seat holder "Stinky" Gambaro! Whack, indeed.


  1. Space Kidette22/1/12 9:53 pm

    Tony Abbott is looking more and more like yesterday's stale bottle of beer.

    Still fighting the 2010 election, the world is two years ahead of the game and some of these lame PR, apropos of nothing, announcements simply make people go "huh?"

    But the thing that continues to surprise me is the continued lack of analysis conducted on Abbott and his policy cupboard.

    Currently that cupboard has one policy, the policy of NO. Hardly sufficient to run the country.

    The msm keep arguing that Abbott gets equal time as the PM because it is a hung parliament and he is the alternative. But if the media were serious about that then they would also deliver an equal degree of scrutiny.

    His populist and nonsense statements (they don't merit being called policies)will actually render themselves as unattractive to voters as time moves closer to the 2013 election date.

    Let's hope that both the msm and voters see Tony Flip-Flop Abbott for what he is before then, otherwise we will have the most destructive, dark-aged, regressive, cringeworthy Prime Minister on record.

    1. I doesn't have to be detailed, just to say that Abbott criticised the PM for (not) doing X, whereas if he were in govt ...

  2. Hillbilly Skeleton22/1/12 11:18 pm

    I keep hoping John McTernan will co-ordinate the ALP to at least do back to Tony Abbott and the Coalition spokesthingys and rantthingys what they do to Labor, in order to tighten up their attacks on Abbott, and their messaging. Which is to monitor what he is saying in all the media, on any given day, and then get on the smart phone to all the MPs and Ministers with an immediate attack line, which almost immediately takes the sting out of Abbott's attack. Return his serve, to use an au currant Tennis metaphor, and see if he can endure a rally. My bet is he and Peta and Brian won't be able to keep up. The Coalition War Room probably have Singo and Big Gina on speed-dial for advice as well, thus it may end up being the contest of wills and strategy that we should be getting, when it comes to seeing just who is fit to run the country(as Big Gina & Singo think they are, via their puppet Abbott).
    Conroy, Wong and Plibersek had a go at him today, when they correctly pointed out that his votes were MIA on action to address Problem Gambling, and so a big cause of the numbers not being there in parliament for tougher policy, as desired by Wilkie. But it was a bit clunky. The Coalition are much better at this(maybe because it's all they ever do as a substitute for talking about policy). However, it IS an effective weapon against Abbott, and I hope they keep honing that sort of attack. They need to. It's better than just saying that Abbott is only capable of saying 'No!'
    The Press Gallery are certainly not going to do it for them, as you say. Their noses are too out of joint, precious petals.

    1. Hi Hillbilly Skeleton,

      Just wanted to say how relieved I am to see you carrying on the good fight. Stay strong!

      Best wishes,


    2. I think it might be more effective han is now apparent, a cumulative thing.

  3. Cracker post there Andrew. You're on a roll.
    More sense in 15 odd paras, than the MSM has managed in 18 mnths. BRAVO!

  4. Andrew, you and Julia Gillard are not the only ones to be disdained by the press gallery. I've got more than enough of that reaction myself. Best thing anyone who gives a damn about this country can do is turn off the mainstream media. Don't buy their papers, don't listen to their talkback radio and don't be part of the audience of their ABC.


    1. The Kyle Sandilands thing shows switching off is not enough.

  5. Thanks again Andrew,
    The Canberra press gallery needs to be held to account. Laurie Oakes, I have found over the years to be able to 'dish it out to both sides' but your article proves that he is able and should do much better.

    1. Oakes is one of the best but that's not to say he's good enough.

  6. At first glance, accusing your opponent of a fault that you share seems like a poor strategy. However, I'm reminded of the tactics of the GWB camp in the 2000 and 2004 elections. In 2000, GWB successfully contested the Republican nomination against John McCain, by suggesting that McCain's war service, particularly his treatment as a POW, made him unsuitable to be President. This was despite GWB having avoided conscription by "serving" in the Texas Air Guard. You would think that GWB would avoid the question of military service!
    Again in 2004, John Kerry's war service was smeared and campaign adverts ("swift boats for truth") were run to imply he too, was not fit to be President.
    Perhaps being the first to mention an issue insulates the candidate, because any retaliation is seen as just that - not as an issue in its own right?

  7. Alphabajangodelta23/1/12 8:36 pm

    A Labor party with half a brain would've come out and whacked 'Stinky' Gambaro over her English lessons comment given Howard was the one who cut migrant English lesson funds back in the late-90s. No doubt knowing it was a key pathway to integration and that poorer integration would lead to ethnic frictions in Labor seats. It is to Labor's embarrassment that it hasn't reinstated this funding and Gambaro's blather would have been a prime opportunity.
    I think you're right to note we haven't yet seen the real story of the 2010 coup. Likewise why are no journos reporting on the workaday dynamics of the Gillard government? Surely so many insiders would have actually some insights into how things are inside?

    1. You're right about Stinky, I was waiting for the government to set upon her like the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz.

      As far as policy goes, they've got the memory of goldfish and their editors are all mugs (see this). There are plenty of stories for journos who'll look for them and the first ones to break from the pack will show the way forward.

  8. I love your work Andrew (I check your blog almost every day for a new post), and I yield to no-one in my view that Abbott is unfit to run anything - much less be Prime Minister. And I agree that the paid commentariat are about as useless as tits on a bull. But my God how can anyone have faith that Julia Gillard is actually *learning* something for all her trouble? Just when she looks like she has, she goes and fucks it all up again to no good end. So the Craig Thomsons of this world are happy those spivs from the clubs lobby aren't gunning for them anymore - so what? All the voters can see is a Prime Minister who will say and do anything. And the truly tragic thing is that it's not for the sake of power, but to secure a fleeting advantage. The student politicians are truly in charge - on both sides. Yes, she only has to beat the enemy in front of her - but it'll be a damned close-run thing when it should be a cakewalk.

    1. I agree with your last sentence - when you see every problem as a political one, you'll only be able to offer political answers. They'll win the next election despite themselves, because there is real policy substance there, but it won't carry them far into the next term.

    2. I think (just) you're right. Apart from the policy substance, (just) enough of the gallery are painfully aware of the free pass they gave Abbott last time 'round. (It won't do much for them and their trade in the long run, but at least they'll give Abbott a harder time.) And there's the fact that - unlike last time - we'll have a PM and an Opposition Leader: rather than, in effect, two Opposition Leaders. (The first sign Gillard wasn't as politically clever as the gallery told us was that silly promise not to move into The Lodge until she was elected.) And when she does win, wait for the Vicars of Bray in the gallery to do their about-faces.

  9. Seen this?
    A transcript of Laurie Oakes interviewing Abbott on TV just before the 2010 election.
    An excerpt or two.
    "LO: That was specifically about your attitude towards climate change and the Emissions Trading Scheme. You’ve had more positions on that than the karma sutra haven’t you?
    LO: Then you said that climate change was crap?

    LO: That’s four positions so far?
    LO: ... Another weather vane example, you said that you would not have a new tax under any circumstances? A month later, you announced would be a 1.7 % tax levy to pay for the paid parental scheme. Weathervane.
    LO: You’re talking about the broken promise on taxes within a month. You couldn’t hold a position for a month?"

    Worth a read as to what can be done.



    1. I remember that. Wish there was more of it. Helped stop Abbot dead in that first week.

    2. But hang on. I saw Tony Abbott on TV earlier today, and he was saying that the Coalition don't flip flop.

      I guess in Abbott's brain, changing policy four or more times doesn't amount to a flip flop.

  10. One thing I don't understand about the Wilkie deal: wasn't it predicated on the support of other indeps? And if so, why aren't Oakeshott and Windsor being quizzed about why they don't support it? I don't understand why there's no pressure being put on those two in particular, if they are in fact the parties who have let Gillard down.

    1. I think the issue itself is one that Labor should be taking on. They resent being shown up. Oakeshott & Windsor have been quiet and I'd be interested to hear from their electorates as to the nature of pokie addiction there.

  11. I find it interesting that the final nail in Downer's coffin as Opposition Leader was his crass joke about "the things that batter" when introducing his party's policy on violence against women. For the life of me I can't see the difference between that and Abbott's remark about the Costa Concordia on the poor judgement and lack of taste scales.

  12. You have perfectly titled this post Andrew. If Oakes whack is not tongue in cheek, it shows how slack and sad the abilities of the peanut gallery really are. Mr-Rabbit can`t be PM coz of bad jokes, just forget that we never showed the voters Mr-Rabbit has no policy. Geesh.