30 April 2012


Clive Palmer won't succeed in his bid to become Federal MP for Lilley. It doesn't matter how much money he has or what the polls say. He won't do it because the banal activity of campaigning would bore him, and that lack of attentiveness would be detectable even by the most disengaged voter. Any voter who had their doubts about Wayne Swan would be wary of sending a message that they'd prefer the country to be run by someone who regards politics and all other activities as sundry to business.

Whether it's the on-again-off-again float of Resourcehouse in Hong Kong (why will no finance journo look into his skittishness on a matter in which billions of dollars are at stake?), Gold Coast United or his proposal for Not The A-League, Palmer is an absolute dilettante at any activity which does not directly involve mining.
Mr Palmer said there was a need to lift standards in Parliament.

“I think Tony Abbott’s a great leader,” he said.
Now there's a non-sequitur for you, an indication of poor judgment. Look at the performance of Parliament and you cannot make the claim that Abbott, Pyne and other poachers of parliamentary standards will become gamekeepers of parliamentary propriety.

Swan was first elected to represent Lilley in 1993, following a retiring Labor MP in what was then considered a safe seat. The 1996 election saw the biggest swing against Labor in Queensland since Federation; Swan lost Lilley but won it back in 1998 and has held it since.

After 1996 Swan took to the streets, the community organisations and the homes of people in Lilley, working hard and applying a lifetime of campaigning skill to the task. He had been Queensland state secretary of the ALP and was highly regarded for his campaigning skill; had he lost then he'd be history, and [insert counterfactual historical frolic here].

Liberals use safe Labor seats like Lilley to blood inexperienced but promising candidates, or else give long-serving locals a reward. While Palmer has his go that role is closed to the LNP and its aspirants. After the 2010 Federal election and the 2012 state election I'd be surprised if the LNP can uncover vast reserves of yet-untapped talent. Palmer is likely to find the local LNP branches in Lilley to be beneath the level at which he operates, and even if he does humour them at first he didn't get where he is today by listening to people like them.

None of the paid shills he brings in will compensate for the lack of an authentic presence in that community. If he alienates local LNP branch members then his credibility is shot from the outset.

Bob Hawke built a reputation over decades as a highly effective campaigner. One slip in the late 1980s, referring to an old man who talked back to him as a "silly old bugger", stayed with him as an indication that this legendary quality was on the slide. Palmer has no such reputation as a campaigner and it is hard to imagine him running a campaign of such discipline with ordinary members of the public that he is never anything but courteous and sensitive to them at all times, and that he can demonstrate the ability to respectfully disagree with someone.

Despite what the media will tell you, very little of the activity involved in political campaigning is glamorous, or even particularly interesting. The most you can get from a person is their vote; not some huge opportunity, just their vote and with enough of those, all you end up with is something Palmer thinks he's entitled to already. The sheer amount of effort required, day after day, and the sheer lack of reward, will discourage Palmer. Like teaching or nursing, grassroots campaigning is all about public service and if the intrinsic rewards don't keep you going, or if you can't even fake it, people will notice and your campaign is shot.

I've worked with plenty of dud Liberal candidates who thought they were pretty good in other walks of life, and I made a point of targeting pikers at preselection time, building a reputation as both a whinger and someone who put in the effort in election campaigns. There are few worse sins in politics than being small-r right. If I was a Liberal preselector in Lilley I'd be against Palmer and copping plenty of flak in the process, mainly from people who made themselves scarce when hard work was called for, and it would make no difference at all.

Yes, Clive Palmer is a political animal, but so was the only other Australian businessman who can claim greater success beyond this country than he: Rupert Murdoch, who at one stage aspired to a Country Party seat in the NSW Legislative Council. Party discipline will kill Palmer, and the credibility of those who dare to impose it on him. Like Murdoch, Palmer will find other interests more than compensate for never having occupied the parliamentary benches.

That's why it's Michelle Grattan who is cracking hardy when she observes from far-off Canberra:
Swan's seat of Lilley is on 3.2 per cent. Even before the Queensland election it was dicey; now it is potentially diabolical for the ALP.
Not all seats swing evenly, and successive elections do not have the ratchet-like effect that simplistic analysis would have, and besides ... why does it fall to me to point this out to someone who should know better?

It's one thing to expect Palmer to disown his wacky comments about the CIA or whatever, but he will have a harder time fighting off the credibility-leeching attentions of conspiracy theory nutcases. They will see him, if not as their most prominent ally, then certainly as their sugar-daddy. Palmer will hate that but there is nothing he can do about it, which he'll hate even more.

Lilley is within metropolitan Brisbane and therefore he would face little threat from Katter's agrarian insurgency (although it would be interesting to see him deal with duopoly as the reason for high supermarket prices, and what government might do about it). Palmer would, however, have to play nice with those who sit with the Nationals in Federal Parliament. One clash with Barnaby over farmers blocking mining exploration and it's COALITION SPLIT SHOCK. The power that Palmer has spent decades building up is covert power and it simply may not withstand the hyper-public nature of a general election campaign.

The fact that Palmer has not announced that he is standing down from his business roles is significant. He hasn't told the ASX and thereby not risked the wrath of the market for distracting his attention away from the challenges facing his business in order to engage in what increasingly looks like an extended practical joke against Wayne Swan.

Even if he does become MP for Lilley, he will be one of a number of backbenchers from seats that are unlikely to be retained in 2016. Palmer will rail against the irrelevance of the backbench while those from more humble backgrounds take a longer-term and more measured approach. Imagine Barnaby lording it over him as a Minister. If Abbott promoted Palmer straight into the ministry, he would be unable to resist advancing his own business interests ahead of those of Australia more generally.

If Palmer wants to do one thing and Abbott another, it is Abbott who will be unable to resist. Swan's article on billionaires and his statement today about Palmer owning the LNP in Queensland is all very well: Abbott should be his real target. A political assassin like Paul Keating would have shaped a narrative that Abbott is beholden to Palmer, wrenching an asset off the Coalition and turning it into a weapon aimed directly at its leader's heart. Made successfully, this is a charge that Abbott will not succeed in laughing off or ignoring, even with the supine press gallery we have today: working journalists have made their peace with doing whatever billionaires bid them do for the sake of their jobs.

If Swan produces a cracker budget then you can expect Palmer's business interests to turn his head away from politics much more suddenly than might otherwise be the case. If you can persuade all but the silliest journalists to realise this is the most likely option, there's more hope for that profession than is obvious at the moment.

The NDIS will be - could be - hugely beneficial for our country. Clive Palmer promising to build some boats is not in that league, and all the editors who hold the contrary view and get carried away with it are the real problem with our media - but don't get me started.

While the journosphere will shrug off the prospect of Palmer et al running the country for their benefit, voters will not.

Update 1 May: Greg Baum's most excellent piece on Palmer's topsy-turvy view of the world.

29 April 2012

Your responsibilities at work

Ideals may tell us something important about what we would like to be, but compromises tell us who we are.

- Avishai Margalit
The tide will turn against you eventually, but when you have a big win you have two choices. You can coast along, collecting and resting on laurels, or you can knuckle down and do some work. When the tide turns, will you have anything to be proud of, anything to show for your efforts, anything to hand on to those who come after (just as those who came before handed over to you)?

It is not only the incumbent Federal government that is in this position. The Australian union movement built and surfed the crest of a wave with its Your Rights At Work campaign. It got rid of legislation it didn't like, and with it the government that proposed it. Union membership even went up a bit back then, but has since declined (and no, unemployment can't be blamed for that). Greg Combet went into Parliament and was replaced by someone who had all the hallmarks of a governance nerd. Jeff Lawrence maintained the status quo rather than put the boom on a sustainable footing (a criticism that can be made of others holding high office) but the answer to their problem is not another swaggering dickhead - an equal-but-opposite of Tony Abbott - but someone who knows that union activity depends upon a well and tightly run administration. It might not be sexy, and it might not get the adrenaline pumping like standing on a picket line yelling at people doing work you've refused to do, but without sound administration no union activity is possible.

The most successful unions today get this. The Shop Distributive & Allied Employees' Union (SDA) is not extravagantly run but its watching-the-pennies administration make its two major functions possible. First, it acts as a consultancy for the two major retailers to manage downward employee expectations of wages, career paths or even any jobs at all. Second, it enables the leadership to proclaim that its tens of thousands of members all share and support their preoccupations with Pellite Catholic teachings (i.e. a focus on abortion and euthanasia and a blind eye to sexual abuse). The Finance Sector Union and the AMWU are also in the business of managing decline, and the AWU is a conveyor belt for ALP machine men. The CFMEU seems like a make-work scheme for the ABCC.

People who get involved in unions from the shop floor up generally have little interest in becoming directors, yet this is what will increasingly be required of those who would take the union movement forward. The language and history of unions has been that workers are passive creatures to be "organised"; that the union exists for the worker ("your union") whether or not the worker chooses to join it, and they may not choose to join a union other than the one designated to "cover" them. This attitude is in stark contrast to the more inclusive rhetoric of other service organisations. One could overlook this as some harmless eccentricity if unions were better able to make their case to workers in industries that did not exist 40 years ago, or to those whose tenure in a job (or even a particular industry) is tenuous and shifting. The people who built the union movement in the decades before the First World War would have been able to work through this dilemma, but the managerial class that the unions built for themselves over the past quarter century are as stumped as the bewildered former blue-collar workers who preceded them.

Unions, like other organisations, require leadership and administration and some degree of stability. Unlike other organisations, unions have to allow for the possibility that members will rise up and demand something different than what the managers/administrators want. This frisson of democracy might be part of the excitement of the idea of unionism but it isn't something that union administrations need worry about on a day-to-day basis, any more than corporate managers do with shareholders. Those who dread the accountability of union members being equal to that of company directors can take comfort from the patchy record of enforcement by corporate regulators.

As ACTU President and Prime Minister, Bob Hawke took on the Builders' Labourers Federation, because the operations of that union only fed every anti-union prejudice. His successor Simon Crean took on the similarly noxious Painters and Dockers. Ged Kearney's Presidency of the ACTU has been one of small wins, with welfare workers; and the whole Help yrSelf Union (HSU) thing certainly clouds, if not overwhelms, that legacy. Kearney does not have to accept whoever her constituent unions throw up, she should take a more active role in shunting out unsuitable people and intervening in unsuitable unions.

That legacy of all-inclusive timidity and inaction leaves you with no defence to this. I stand by the claim that Abbott won't become PM but putting union leaders under the same scrutiny as company directors is the sort of thing that will be introduced by the next Coalition government, whenever and under whomever it comes to office. Thanks to inaction on the part of those who run the union movement, there is no answer nor any alternative to that proposal. Labor will introduce something half-arsed along those lines and the next Coalition government will complete the job.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten could do for the professionalism of union leaders what he started to do for financial planners, but he's been sidelined by this. It has derailed his ability to disguise as a concern for unions as a whole what is really a long-running factional spat with Kathy Jackson. Those of us with a relatively long political memory remember Abbott doing the same thing to John Howard, Peter Costello, Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull: he denied hearing the exact words but protested his undying support for the leader. Journos lapped that up, or at best let it pass, but for some reason Shorten has copped all at once the consistent scrutiny that might have done for Tony Abbott before it came to this.

26 April 2012

Abbott and Slipper

Slipper's mistake here was to assume that Abbott is his own man. Any other Liberal leader would have told the Queensland LNP to back away from one of his supporters, but not the Situation. Abbott's performance is the issue here.

Let us not underestimate what a prize dingo Abbott is. When Abbott failed at the priesthood it was Turnbull who got him a job. When Turnbull stumbled in 2009, Abbott was right there with knife in hand.

Abbott started off by pointing out that Slipper's problems weren't Gillard's doing. As soon as the Prime Minister left the country he changed his tune, blaming Gillard for Slipper's antics directly. In the absence of the Prime Minister, those ministers who gave Rudd such a going-over should be giving Abbott the same treatment. Abbott respects strength and if you don't demonstrate it by smacking him around he gets cheeky, confusing good manners with weakness. He began to increase his media output beyond the tightly-scripted Daily Stunt, feeling heady enough to give a long-form interview.

Being comfortable with and proficient at handling experienced journalists in long-form interviews is a pre-requisite for any senior politician. Abbott is crap at long-form interviews. He can trot out his talking points, but if he is interrupted or challenged he just weakly repeats the interviewer's name, or tells a lie. The day following any such attempt includes a story focused on whatever lie or gaffe had tumbled out of his face, which almost certainly reinforces his nervy and risk-averse handlers' perception that their man should shirk the gauntlet that stands between him and the Lodge.

Note that Abbott chose Chris Uhlmann as his interlocutor. Abbott is the only politician Uhlmann interviews whom he does not talk over or interrupt. Every one of his other interview subjects cop this treatment, along with begged questions and beef-witted assumptions that have to be batted away before the question can be answered; Uhlmann's assumptions are clearly Abbott's assumptions, which is why he was content to hear Abbott in respectful silence. Uhlmann's treatment of Abbott compared with that of others is observable, objective fact, and it belies his ambitions (and those of his employer) to be regarded as an effective senior journalist.

Even so, Abbott's performance was still rubbish. He had little to say about the prospect of welfare cuts from his shadow treasurer, little to say about tobacco plain-packaging or changes to aged care (despite having been a former Health and Ageing Minister), little to say about other issues of great public importance. But my goodness, wasn't he voluble about some stray cabcharge vouchers and some sleazy comments. He's had a lot more to say against the pre-parliamentary antics Craig Thomson than he has against the in-office performance of Wayne Swan. That shows you where he's most comfortable; not grappling with the big issues, but down with rorting and rooting.

Slipper knows enough about Parliament both to uphold its dignity as the most effective Speaker in years, as well as knowing how to bend the rules to his advantage. It is tempting to turn a blind eye to the latter in order to secure the former, particularly when similar misdemeanours were brushed aside in 1997 by the Howard government (and again, apparently, in 2003 by Slipper himself). James Hunter Ashby is unconvincing as anything but a Liberal stool-pigeon, and it's hard to imagine his case going much beyond he-said-he-said and case dismissed.

Speaking of stool-pigeons, there is probably a Walkley in it for Steve Lewis to publish what was fed to him. Lewis should not only remember the allegations surrounding former High Court Justice Kirby allegedly using official vehicles to cruise for gay prostitutes, but give some consideration as to whether or not something similar is going on here. Lewis has no excuse for not joining the dots between Ashby, Godwin Grech and the Kirby allegations, and wondering if a Coalition government might not bring more sleaze than less.

It may well be an organisational problem for Lewis' employer, however, and to see that you don't need to go as far as his Chairman's testimony in London. This article and cartoon by two men who should know better, even though they work for Murdoch, is just sad:
Peter Slipper would not be able to make an appearance, official or otherwise, without attracting a barrage of titters and knowing smirks.
A bit like Bill Clinton, twice-elected President of the United States, eh Malcolm? Like Bob Hawke? It's easy to get all upset about the homophobia in that piece but in an age of widespread public support for the Sydney Mardi Gras and same-sex marriage, homophobia is not the vote-winner/newspaper-seller that News Ltd executives still clearly imagine it to be.

Farr and Leak only remind us that you can't have homophobia without misogyny, and in an environment where sneer-at-the-queer has free rein a woman in high office has no chance. That's News Ltd's real target here: the Speaker is collateral damage aiming at the PM.

Slipper's only chance is to abandon the starchy outrage that he has shown so far and become some sort of old roué, toward whom everyone is awake-up but who is not only forgiven but regarded quite fondly for all that. Such a position would appear, however, to be beyond him. I hope Slipper returns to the chair and chucks the bums out until they learn to behave.

The irony for the Coalition is that a quiet confidence is far more unsettling to a government than rambunctious points-of-order, fatuous interjections and general chaos. They learned that themselves in 1995, they witnessed it again when Rudd flung it at them in 2007, and their current leader witnessed both at first hand. The fact that they have not learned this now only shows that the Coalition is led badly, indeed inadequately, by the incumbent. Against such a deficit of decency and common sense, whether or not Abbott is punctilious with his expenses and/or his private life is really neither here nor there.

22 April 2012

Hockey's entitlement

For some reason this old post has been getting a lot of traffic this week (more rubbish predictions on my part, but I was right about Joe), timely I suppose in light of this.

What Hockey is doing in London is seeing what a successful conservative government looks like. This has become standard practice for Australian political parties, and is separate from the government-to-government relationships of statecraft:
  • The Liberals have done this since the early 1950s, when they saw Rosser Reeves' advertising techniques applied to Eisenhower's Republicans.
  • Labor did not do this until the late 1960s, when Whitlam encouraged party officials to learn from the US Democrats and UK Labour.
  • As Opposition Leader in the 1980s Howard sought and received lectures from Thatcher, but on going to Washington did not receive the same face-time from Reagan; instead, he learned how to make conservative culture-war and creating the appearance of economic rationalism as increased opportunity from the backroom boys who had taken Reagan from a perception as a lightweight and an extremist all the way to the White House. By the time of Bush II these acquaintances had become unbreakable bonds.
  • Kim Beazley swapped notes with Tony Blair, to the mutual edification of neither man.
Since 2007 backroom boys have maintained their links with US counterparts but politicians have stayed away from Washington for fear of catching loser-germs. Before then, as a Howard government minister, Abbott visited Washington where he struck a rapport with Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a high-profile conservative Catholic. Abbott cannot failed to have seen how Santorum did unexpectedly well before losing to the US equivalent of Malcolm Turnbull, who is widely held to be doomed in his contest with Obama this November. The fact that US conservatives are so disconnected from government is the reason why Australian conservatives can do the crocodile-tears routine over Afghanistan.

Abbott went to London in 2010 to attend a Conservative conference, where he famously declined the opportunity to visit Afghanistan. Less well reported here was his encounter with UK conservatives over climate change. There are two propositions with climate change: a) that global temperatures have increased and b) that this has been caused by human activity. US conservatives, from whom Australian Liberals have learned most, accept neither proposition (someone like Monckton is closer to the US than his fellow Poms in that regard). UK conservatives have to accept a), because the case has been made more conclusively by scientists and the non-Murdoch media to the point where denialism is not appropriate for mainstream parties of government; they quibble over b), but they are still well ahead of US conservatives in that regard (and hence of Australians). Abbott looked like a goose when he turned up bagging the very idea of global warming, and was firmly put in his place by leading UK conservatives.

Abbott has learned about as much as he can from conservatives in the US and UK. Hockey, however, has further to go. Like Abbott he is staying away from the madness in the US. Unlike Abbott he does not regard the UK experience as so strange that nothing useful can be learned from it.

The UK Conservatives had the classic problem of an exhausted party: nobody wanted Thatcherite hectoring nor Majorite dithering, but their supporters of whatever degree of commitment never wanted them to completely abandon everything they stood for either. After years of lurching this way and that, David Cameron found a way to represent Conservatives as having kept up with and pulled ahead of Blair while still remaining true to what we might call the essentials of their brand recognition. That eludes the Liberals at the moment, and if I was a senior Liberal I'd want to see it up close too.

Part of what Cameron does in linking back to Thatcher, and further back into the myths of UK history, is that rhetoric about self-reliance, pulling your socks up, getting to work and not complaining, etc. Hockey can and does use the same rhetoric to hark back to Australian conservatives past, too. In Hockey's case, it helps him reach beyond his moderate base and show conservatives that he's not some wet hand-wringer who might go soft under pressure.

From a purely tactical point of view, you can see why one or two Labor people want to interpret Hockey's speech as foreshadowing cuts to health and welfare. It's interesting that any appeal to economic rationalism must mean a reduction in those things: not to incentives given to other industries that can't seem to make a go of all those stated aims of employment and innovation, but which keep getting the largesse anyway. It was a bad look to question welfare so soon after describing his own income as "meagre", and had his relationship with he press gallery not been as good as it is they'd have gone him over it.

As Treasurer for his side Hockey has to be the bastard who says no to politically appealing but economically costly ideas. In doing so he needs a higher framework to appeal to, he just can't say no, no, no like Abbott does. That's why Hockey can stand against donations to the vehicle industry. Another reason why he can do so is his understanding of Australian business, which is probably the best of any current member of Federal Parliament.

Hockey is the man to question the assumption that the car industry is somehow politically vital. The 1981 Lynch Plan did little to save the Fraser government, and the much-vaunted Button car plan of 1985 did little to keep Labor in office. Yet, he did not prevail amongst his colleagues with his views: not with his economic rationality, nor with the accumulated favours and personal goodwill with which he is regarded, nor for having spent a decade in various ministerial roles regulating business in one form or another. His tackling of then-AMP chairman Ian Burgess, a lion of the Sydney business community and close to Howard, showed both his courage and his grasp of his facts to take on someone like Burgess. If there is a way to wean the vehicle industry off the public teat - using many of the same arguments you'd use against welfare to single mums and/or Aborigines - Hockey is the one to find it.

In one sense it is surprising that Hockey has not become the darling of libertarians. His record in this area is stronger than any Australian politician since Bert Kelly, who was never a minister. Hockey's record in cutting red tape and spending is stronger than Howard's; when Howard voted against the Lynch car plan in the Fraser Cabinet in 1981, he was hailed as a saviour and messiah by the economic rationalists and libertarians of the day. They gave him a free pass and continue to do so: despite Labor delivering lower tax-to-GDP ratios and more than matching the Coalition for deregulation and privatisations, the IPA cleaves to the party of Howard over that of Hawke, Keating and Swan. This is partly because Labor has its own quasi-intelligentsia and the IPA would find itself one voice among many in Labor ranks; given the state of the Coalition parties today the IPA is pretty much the nearest thing they have to a brains trust. In the land of the blind the one-eyed men have a singularity of focus that the binocular cannot match.

Like the libertarians though, the fact is that Hockey cannot carry the day among his colleagues. Just because he could cut corporate welfare doesn't mean he will, even if he had the chance. What that means is that when he says something, it can't be interpreted as likely Liberal policy despite his seniority and his supposed responsibility for Coalition economic policy. Soon after Hockey's speech and Lateline appearance, Arthur Sinodinos was hosing it down. Andrew Robb has the same problem, but is more constrained politically than Hockey; Robb might have a clearer macroeconomic perspective but Hockey has a base in the party that Robb lacks. Turnbull also lacks a powerbase but the mix of knowledge, courage and perspective he offers provides a depth that Hockey and Robb both lack, particularly in providing something on which to develop a post-Howard legacy.

The efforts of Turnbull, Hockey and Robb in meeting with people and throwing ideas around (not something other shadow ministers do), and the resulting backlash among "senior Coalition sources" means that the Coalition aren't clear about what ideas they want to take to government, or indeed why they should replace the incumbents. Abbott can't reconcile strong ideas; the pointlessness of favourable media coverage is shown here, where Samantha Maiden tried to make Abbott look like a victim of circumstances but only makes him look like a weak leader. I don't care what the polls say; this will come back to bite them when people are seriously considering who to actually vote for, as opposed to the idle chatter with which they engage pollsters.

That was Michelle Grattan's message in this article I linked to already; she likes it when each party sings from the same songsheet, and frowns upon one member of one party saying one thing while another says something different. Conveying debate and nuance isn't her thing, she wants to tell us that everything in Canberra is in its proper place and don't you worry about a thing; but when people speak out of turn, or do things like issuing press releases after 4pm on Fridays, then dear oh dear it makes life difficult and don't you know how we run things around here? Never mind the implications of those debates for readers and the citizenry at large, provided pro-forma appearances in Canberra are as neat as a pin and all the protocols are observed, then the nation cannot be anything but in tip-top shape.

Hockey protests that his speech was intended for a European audience, but why would they wish to hear from him? He voted against the measures that gave Australia its world-best economy, and in government backed policies that gave away windfall gains so that they would fuel a bubble rather than build infrastructure and social investments. For Australians, his speech is a nostalgia act for a lucky government rather than an action plan for a responsible one. Given recent bipartisan noises over the inadequacy of unemployment benefits, Liberal policies like the Great Big New Paid Parental Leave Tax, and certain political and economic realities pointed out by Peter Brent, you have to be sure that Hockey's tough talk is sheer wind, and given his failure at winning over his current set of colleagues it will not translate into policy any time soon.

There is one aspect of the speech, though, that Hockey probably didn't think about too much before launching into it:
I wish to thank my friends at the Institute of Economic Affairs for the opportunity to discuss an issue that has been the source of much debate in this forum for sometime - that is, the end of an era of popular universal entitlement ... It is ironic that the entitlement system seems to be most obvious and prevalent in some of the most democratic societies. Most undemocratic nations are simply unable to afford the largesse of universal entitlement systems ... Let me put it to you this way: The Age of Entitlement is over.
This echoes Bill Clinton's insistence of fifteen years ago about the end of big government, but doesn't add to it or explain what's gone on in the meantime. Again, more wind on Hockey's part, but in the European context - and specifically the UK context - this statement reveals just another politician hungering for a perception of boldness over good sense.

It's not "ironic" (except, perhaps, in a Morrisettian sense) that entitlements developed in prosperous democracies. This arose as a direct experience from the Second World War. Wars have always been about blood, soil and honour: defending our families and ways of life from the Dreaded Foreigner. Hitler and Mussolini pretty much illustrated where that line of thinking goes. The whole idea of creating entitlements was to provide citizens a stake in the state that did not involve xenophobia, or land ownership (in the mid-twentieth century land was not the guarantor of wealth and status that it had been), or the sort of political power that threatened those who had it antebellum: there isn't much clout in being a mendicant, and people like Orwell and Hayek were clear about how disempowering welfare could be. By declaring an end to entitlements, and to any debate over same, Hockey doesn't offer any sustainable vision of what should take its place as far as a stake in the nation-state is concerned.

Hockey's talk about families taking back responsibility in caring for children and the elderly (and, one might add, the disabled) is galling in an age where costs of care are rising faster than incomes, and people's increasingly insecure work hours do not allow for time to provide that care; there needs to be a way for government to support people in providing that care that doesn't break the economy. He cites Asian countries as models for what he proposes, countries where citizens regard their governments as capricious and disengaged from their interests to an extent that would appall common-law countries like the UK and Australia. If Hockey can't find it - worse, if he isn't looking for it - then he's just another windbag offering non-solutions, not to Australian voters or Institutionalised Poms or anyone else really.

That speech will help Hockey reach out to people within the Liberal Party who wouldn't otherwise support him. It is a shallow and ignorant speech in many regards, the kind that might go over well to a well fed and watered foreign audience but which is of no help to the sober people who'd have to get up the following day and make it work. It might be the sort of thing that Barton or Menzies may have made to appreciative London audiences earlier in their careers, which weren't transcribed but described glowingly nonetheless. It should be regarded as intellectual mulch from which a future Coalition government may yet reap, not any sort of directions statement in itself.

When Abbott goes down the current front bench is going to look pretty stupid for going along with whatever he wanted; only Hockey, Turnbull and Robb have given any indication about what the Liberal Party might do eighteen months from now, win or lose. Hockey has set out his position but not how he will bring people with him, inside the Liberal Party or out, which is why this is so much journosphere nonsense. Complaints that those men do not toe the line only shows how poor is the process of setting that line, and therefore how inadequate is all that Malcolm Tucker bollocks about enforcing a common line, however stupid or misplaced.

Hockey likes the idea of having ideas; see how he basked in the aftermath of his most recent speech and his previous efforts on corporate law reform. There are payoffs in having a perception as an economically rationalist thinker, as Howard showed. However, Hockey should rightly be concerned that his ideas might make life harder for him than it is already - unless he gets a drastically different set of colleagues.

17 April 2012

Back in his paddock

Barnaby Joyce is an increasing threat to the credibility of the Liberal Party without being a threat to anyone outside the Coalition. Tony Abbott needs to rebuke him publicly to shore up the sort of credibility that a Prime Minister needs, but he won't do it because he is weak.

John Howard used to do this sort of thing, but in copying him Abbott is learning the wrong lesson. Howard had his favourites and he would pretty much always defend them - or where he couldn't, would refuse to criticise them publicly. Abbott was a recipient of this level of protection and now Abbott is passing the favour forward to Joyce.

The problem with doing that is: Joyce is a Nat. Nationals do contribute to the Coalition from time to time but they take much more than they give. When a Coalition government collapses it's the Libs who do the heavy lifting and who therefore give out first. Leeches may drop off their hosts when they die but Nationals stay attached at a point close by the juicier organs. Howard in the 1980s was as open and conciliatory to the Nationals as any Liberal leader could be but they just kept spitting in his face. Peacock could deal with the squirearchy elements while small-town whingers like Charles Blunt did themselves in.

By the time Tim Fischer started running rings around Hewson and Downer, Howard had learned how to deal with Nationals: lend a hand in big issues they care about (e.g. snuffing out Aboriginal land rights) and make them feel involved with their simplistic contributions to macroeconomic debates (which always degenerates to a shopping list of special pleading), but otherwise you beat them hard with a big stick if they ever dare to wade into debates that truly matter. The one big issue where Howard lost sight of that was the issue that may yet sink his Prime Ministership in history: AWB-Iraq. Farmers wanted any blood-encrusted coins that Bill Hartley had left behind, and rather than go into bat for the bludgers, Howard and Downer should have dropped them out at sea in a chaff bag.

This is the lesson Abbott has not learnt. The idea of building big dams and super highways where nobody lives or works is stupid. It doesn't make you look like a visionary, it makes you look like you don't get it and that you hate Australians for wanting to squander their hard-earned in this way. It is the prime example of journalistic laziness that they let Joyce go on with pet schemes like this - fools may call it vision - without calling him on the economics.

Phillip Adams called him a latter-day Wilson Tuckey, but all Oppositions need a mongrel and nobody who reveres Eddie Ward or Paul Keating should be indulged in such a complaint. It's probably more accurate to regard Joyce as the Coalition's Paul Howes: obnoxiously self-regarding and not nearly the vote-puller he fancies himself to be, flogging the dead horse of old-school protectionism which only impresses easily-impressed media producers hungry for the ratings cut-through of a colourful quote. Where Joyce seriously overreaches is with stunts like this. His preferred candidate didn't get up and her opponent did, which is going to make life awkward in the Senate (which may well be a sign he's tiring of that joint). All that Queensland crap might gee-up people in NSW, where there is established rivalry over the rugby codes, but Victorians were always going to find his outbursts puzzling, if not disturbing.

Victorian Liberals assume that their people are going to form the core of any Coalition government, and that slap-in-the-face from Joyce only reminds them that the second-biggest source of Coalition MPs in Federal Parliament is not Victoria but Queensland. If someone like that is going to be in Federal Cabinet, riding roughshod over other members, then perhaps it's time to rally around Ted Baillieu and leave Canberra to its own devices. That's how a party can be so strong at one level of government but hopeless at another; it only takes one out-of-control galoot to turn people away from Team Loser and get with the strength. In NSW a decade ago, Charlie Lynn became the face of state politics to the point where any Liberal worth their salt could only focus their efforts on keeping Howard in office. Now Joyce is performing that role for Abbott and driving sensible Liberals toward their comparatively more successful and smarter state governments.

The deselection of Helen Kroger shows that being a whip is the most dangerous job in Liberal politics. Scuttling around Parliament doing their busywork, there was once a time when those who flinched under the Whips' lash had no choice but to cop it sweet. After Patrick Secker and now Kroger losing preselection (and make no mistake, Kroger will not be re-elected to the Senate), opposition whips will have to be a lot more subtle in getting their colleagues to move toward the holding pens of government.

Amid the apathy-inducing prospect of Australia's poorest parliamentary team squabbling amongst themselves came this pearler:
Most of Senator Ryan's cheer squad comprises opinion leaders for competition and the free market. Former Liberal Senate leader Nick Minchin wrote that he was "very grateful to the Victorian Liberal Party for selecting such an outstanding young man".
Let's see: free market - Nick Minchin - nope, I can't see the connection either. Schubert assumes a lot with a statement like that, but as with a Grattan article such facts as there are in the article aren't strong enough to prop up the assumptions.

Anyway, back to Joyce. Whatever he gains from drawing attention to rural issues is undone by the silliness of the issues themselves - big dams and nothing about remote schools or health services, nothing sensible about Aborigines, nor even any tackling of big and serious issues of farms versus mines. If you're going to stick your nose into Gina Rinehart's family affairs and accept her hospitality - even if that involves more curry than you're accustomed to - it's imperative to devote some thought to the big issues facing your constituency. Doubling the baby bonus does not bring all the votes to your yard, it's one of those statements that everyone remembers but nobody believes (like Hawke and no child living in poverty, or Gillard claiming to be against gay marriage). Too much time going into bat for Cubbie Station and Clive Palmer is going to erode this common-man-Barnaby persona that makes him such a media darling real fast.

Speaking of which, how silly were Joyce and Abbott in going after Christine Milne? She's a farmer and will take to farming communities far better than soft-handed townies like Joyce or Abbott might imagine. This isn't to say that a Green tsunami will wash across the bush, but Milne will succeed in lifting her party's votes in the three biggest states to the point where they will not only elect a Green Senator but Green preferences will play a more prominent role in other contests where they haven't been strong. Anti-CSG activists could do worse than study Milne's campaign against the proposed pulp mill at Wesley Vale - much worse, if listening to Joyce's jibber-jabber or soft-cock Max Tomlinson is any guide. Milne will also help to lift the Katter vote in the bush, where he's on he same page regarding farming vs mining; the Nats have nowhere to go but down, led by the man who talked about taking on Tony Windsor but who piked at the crunch.

Bob Brown came from a country background but was never comfortable in rural communities. Shutting down all those Hydro and logging jobs in Tasmania made for a stand-off between Greens and bushies that has become the very sort of political given that goes unquestioned by the politico-media complex, and which therefore is ripe for a kicking. If Milne was cut from the same cloth as Brown, the Greens would never have survived in Tasmanian politics once Brown headed for Canberra. Sometimes a leader who succeeds a popular and distinctive leader has to go their own way; Abbott, in cleaving too closely to Howard, hasn't learned that lesson either.

If Barnaby Joyce is to be any good to the Coalition, let alone the nation, he is going to have to be put in his place. The Coalition leader who does that will be a leader indeed. Truss is not that person and neither is Abbott. Laughing at Joyce, like Labor does, isn't good enough. A quiet word won't do either: only a public rebuke will get Victorian Liberals unified behind such a leader (which will involve them getting the most out of their own bailiwick; sometimes the alchemy of leadership is most notable by its absence). Knocking the Mouth from Maranoa on his backside will make uncommitted voters sit up and listen. A Barnaby Joyce who revels in the sound of broken china crashing and crunching underhoof while customers and shop-staff storm the exits might be enjoying himself hugely, but like Wilson Tuckey he only weakens those he would support. Tony Abbott must take this bull by the horns, but he won't; and the polls don't measure that either, so stuff the polls.

10 April 2012

Abbott and the limits of Gerard Henderson's support

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'ld jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips.

- Shakespeare Macbeth Act I Scene VII
In this article tobacco-subsidised Gerard Henderson is getting ahead of himself in not only assuming that Tony Abbott will be PM, but what sort of PM he'll be. The whole article sounds very defensive, a rally-the-troops effort rather than a calm appraisal of the inevitable.
These days, Malcolm Fraser is much beloved by the left ... leftist journalist ... standing ovations from sandal-wearing intelligentsia at taxpayer-subsidised literary festivals.
Standard opening by asbestos-apologist-subsidised Henderson: he wants to filter out any reader who doesn't already support him and won't question him with a sort of verbal barrage.
But it was not always so. As Graham Freudenberg pointed out in his 1977 book A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam in Politics, "Fraser's performance in 1975 was one of the most concentrated, single-minded and effective exercises in political destruction ever undertaken in Australian history".

Fraser took over the Liberal Party leadership from Billy Snedden in March 1975, opposed virtually all Whitlam Labor's legislation in the Senate and finally blocked supply. In the parlance of the day, Fraser was the embodiment of negative politics. A veritable "Dr No". But his tactics worked. In December 1975, Fraser led the Coalition to one of the biggest victories in Australian history.
That's right: Fraser took over in February and was Prime Minister by Christmas that same year. Abbott's experience is so different that pokies-subsidised Henderson's attempt at a parallel cannot really be drawn - at least not in the way he might hope.

Abbott took over the leadership of the Liberal Party in December 2009. By December 2010 he still wasn't Prime Minister, even though there had been a general election in the meantime. He could not persuade rural-based independents to back him, a problem Fraser would have handled with ease. Today, those who backed Gillard as PM have, with the exception of Wilkie, been confirmed in their decision; those upon whom the Coalition relies to force the no-confidence vote that would bring about an Abbott Government before the next election is due have been disparaging of the negative campaign that Henderson praises. Abbott has more in common with unsuccessful Opposition Leaders than with successful ones.

Had Abbott become Prime Minister in August-September 2010, he would have done so 9-10 months after taking the leadership of his party: the same period Fraser took to achieve the feat, and slightly less time than Rudd or Howard did:

Opposition Leader elected PM
Became Leader
Became PM
Duration as LOTO
Feb 1967
Dec 1972
5 yrs 10mths
Feb 1975
Nov 1975
9 mths
Feb 1983
Mar 1983
1 mth
Feb 1995
Mar 1996
1 yr 1 mth
Dec 2006
Nov 2007
10 mths

The lesson is clear: if you're going to become PM you don't want to spend too long as Opposition Leader. Whitlam's incumbency is the odd one out because of a number of factors unique to his experience: the turnover of Liberal Prime Ministers (losing one was an accident, but three shows carelessness), Labor's extraordinary performance in the 1969 election, and the fact that his competitors within the ALP were either drones (e.g. Frank Crean) or the sort of people who got standing ovations from sandal-wearing intelligentsia at taxpayer-subsidised literary festivals (Jim Cairns).

This lesson is even clearer when you look at those Opposition Leaders who were unsuccessful at becoming Prime Minister:

LOTO who never became PM
Became Leader
Duration as LOTO
Dec 1972
Feb 1975
2 yrs 3mths
Dec 1977
Feb 1983
5 yrs 3 mths
Peacock (1)
Mar 1983
Sep 1985
2 yrs 3 mths
Sep 1985
May 1989
3 yrs 8 mths
Peacock (2)
May 1989
Mar 1990
10 m (total: 3 yrs 1 mth)
Mar 1990
May 1994
4 yrs 2 mths
May 1994
Jan 1995
8 mths
Beazley (1)
Mar 1996
Nov 2001
5 yrs 8 mths
Nov 2001
Dec 2003
2 yrs 1 mth
Dec 2003
Jan 2005
1 yr 1 mth
Beazley (2)
Jan 2005
Dec 2006
1 yr 10 mths (total: 7 yrs 6 mths)
Nov 2007
Sep 2008
10 mths
Sep 2008
Dec 2009
1 yr 3 mths

* Yes, yes, he later became PM. This period is regarded as some sort of learning experience because he didn’t become PM immediately afterwards and actually dissuaded many Liberals from giving him another go.

As of the date of this post, Abbott has been Opposition Leader for 2 years and 5 months, about average for an unsuccessful Opposition Leader - and by this I mean someone unsuccessful at translating his party leadership to a majority in the House of Representatives. Abbott fans like merchant-bank-sponsored Henderson insist that the position of Opposition Leader must be appreciated on its own merits rather than the way parties of government regard it: as a stepping-stone to the Prime Ministership.

Plenty of Opposition Leaders have limped out of politics insisting that Opposition is a worthy job in and of itself:
  • Mark Latham insisted that he "took the fight up to" the Howard government;
  • Labor won 51% of the popular vote in 1998 but still lost office;
  • John Hewson defended Fightback! for forcing Bob Hawke - one of the most talented politicians of the past century - off his game and out of his job, and keeping Keating on his toes;
  • Andrew Peacock out-campaigned Bob Hawke at his first election, despite Hawke having one of the most highly-regarded Cabinets ever and Peacock was stuck with left-overs from the defeated Fraser government;
  • Bill Hayden took his party from the second-worst loss in federal election history to the point where "a drover's dog" could have won the election;
  • Billy Snedden maintained that he had not really lost the 1974 election.
But really, so what? All Opposition Leaders have experienced a bit of a swing here and a strong performance there, but there is nothing so evanescent as an achievement in Opposition. Henderson should not only know better but stop asserting the contrary case, namely that Abbott is a substantial person in a substantial office doing substantial things.
Today, Tony Abbott is vilified by Julia Gillard and her colleagues, along with quite a few commentators, for his negativity. Yet this is not unusual behaviour for an opposition leader. 
Yes it is.

Since Freudenberg wrote the book upon which Henderson relies so heavily, twelve (very) different men have occupied the position of Leader of the Federal Opposition. None of them has taken the position that Abbott has taken, that the government is so lacking in legitimacy it must be opposed strenuously at every turn, regardless of the merits for the public of what is proposed.

Henderson's use of the word "vilified" is misplaced here; Abbott has received no more or less criticism from the government than anyone in his position might expect. When the Rudd government laid off Brendan Nelson, and when the Howard government went easy on Crean, it was a sign that each man's leadership was terminal - that the incumbents no longer took their so-called leading opponent seriously as an opponent.
The 2010 election result and current opinion polls indicate this tactic is succeeding.
The 2010 election should be regarded as just another election loss. There was a general election, the leader of the Liberal Party did not become Prime Minister and still does not hold that office: as with other competitive endeavours, there are no second prizes in politics.

The Coalition lost the 2010 federal election in the same way they lost the 1995 NSW election, the 1998 Queensland election and the 1999 Victorian election - only just, but those narrow defeats were harbingers of Labor landslides rather than errors soon rectified on the part of the Coalition.

As to the polls, they also indicate that Abbott has not yet failed. Gillard should be much further behind than she is were she to be written off as pollution-subsidised Henderson and others seem to hope.
Jonathan Green, the presenter of ABC RN's Sunday Extra, is one of a bevy of leftists ...
The standard practice of ABC-subsidised Henderson is to aggregate leftists into "brigades" (e.g. "the black armband brigade"). He has set up and knocked down so many brigades, consisting mostly of straw men, that I was surprised that he does not lead the Anzac Day March. Now he has exhausted the very term 'brigade' itself. Are Green's criticisms of the HSU leftist, or are critics of the HSU like critics of the Catholic Church, where expressing even the mildest qualm is proof that you never accepted the very precepts of such an organisation and that you are in league with its enemies? Vital questions of Green's embeviment turn on this.
Green ran the familiar leftist mantra that "Tony Abbott is a total dud that everyone hates but he's going to be prime minister because the other lot are just such an incompetent rabble".

Green, citing Australian Financial Review journalist Geoff Kitney, went on to claim that Abbott's net approval rating is minus 17 and "that compares with the great minus approval ratings of history like Billy Snedden who copped a minus 30 at one point".

But Snedden was not replaced as Liberal leader in 1975 on account of his approval rating. He was dumped because he was a lightweight who did not enjoy the confidence of his parliamentary colleagues. The real comparison is not between Abbott and Snedden ...
Oh yes he was. Oh yes it is.

Snedden lost the confidence of his parliamentary colleagues because of his poor polling. He had his supporters and his detractors; all leaders, even successful ones, have and do. Snedden was no more or less a lightweight than Abbott is; he was Attorney General in the Menzies government. He was Minister for Immigration during the early steps away from the White Australia Policy, and Minister for Labour and National Service during the first attempts to equalise male and female wages. When he was Treasurer both unemployment and inflation were less than three per cent. Snedden's record on fiscal discipline is much stronger than Abbott's, and his record on sound policy well executed as a minister is much, much better than Abbott's. However, Snedden was also prone to the sort of undisciplined and frankly nasty outbursts that Abbott fans and detractors alike have come to accept as an essential part of the man.

How is that defeatist 'mantra' (whether or not it truly belongs to Green) significantly different from the pro-Abbott one that says "Tony Abbott might not be everyone's cup of tea but he's going to be prime minister because the other lot are just such an incompetent rabble"?
... Abbott has been able to get both Liberal and National MPs behind him as he set about the destruction of a first-term government and, since the election, a minority government. Many commentators thought this could not be done.
And a fat lot of good it has done anyone. The "destruction of a first-term government" didn't happen, and "destruction of ... a minority government" hasn't happened either, so it looks like those commentators got it right. Famously, no legislation has actually been blocked under a minority government, which is more than can be said for many majority governments. I can't think of a single policy introduced by the Gillard government which was improved in any way by having been opposed by the Coalition, despite Abbott's vow to hold the government "ferociously to account".

Like all weak Liberal leaders, Abbott has kept the Nationals on side mainly by giving in to them. Nationals stand up for farming rights over mining rights despite the two being in direct conflict in many cases. This conflict is every bit as significant to agricultural interests, and to the nation and its future, as those posed by Aboriginal rights arising from the Mabo and Wik High Court decisions in the 1990s when the Howard government came to power. In that conflict it is not in Australia's interests to give all power to one side to vanquish the other; certainly, the Liberal Party's alignment with mining interests will make for the sort of titanic struggle that makes the sophisticated policy development necessary to balance such important interests harder, rather than easier. This is a structural weakness for a potential Coalition government, and treating 'leadership' as some sort of magic emollient that must not be questioned is weak and poor analysis.

In the 1980s, when the Liberals were fully on board with the economic rationalism debate and the Nationals saw it as their role to block it, Gerard Henderson recognised that the economic future of this country depended on the Nationals being beaten hard and often. Now he looks on benignly and thinks it's nice that the Coalition are playing happy families, when Barnaby Joyce is a latter-day Joh National and poses real difficulties for both Coalition policy-making and peace-making.
Quite a few commentators, who concede that Labor will lose the next election, want Turnbull to lead the Liberals. La Trobe University academic Robert Manne ... Clearly Manne believes Turnbull should be Australia's alternative prime minister.
You can imagine Henderson intoning sonorously: "We meet again, Professor Manne". Manne talked to a girl whom the then-unsubsidised Henderson liked at Melbourne University in the 1960s, or something, and has copped it ever since from Henderson. Woodchip-sponsored Henderson and Manne should get a room and sort it out. As to Manne's opinion on Turnbull, so what? Is this news or something? It might be a red-rag to Henderson but it's both entirely predictable and all part of wider debate.

Henderson is right when he says that Turnbull isn't ready to become Liberal leader again because all of the weaknesses he had as leader the first time around. Henderson is even right when he says that Abbott should continue to lead the Liberal Party to the next election: serves 'em right, I say, and his defeat will show the necessity to move on from Howardism.
Why should Liberal MPs, or indeed Coalition voters, care that a self-confessed Greens voter such as Manne believes Abbott should be dumped as opposition leader?
Why should Henderson care so much? It depends on whether or not you see the role of the Coalition as trying to convince those who did not vote Coalition in 2007 and 2010 to do so. Maybe Manne is playing cute in trailing his coat for a Liberal vote; I haven't read his interview.
Unlike the Gillard/Rudd leadership battles, Abbott prevailed over Turnbull on a matter of policy - namely the emissions trading scheme/carbon tax. If elected, his first priority would be to junk Labor's carbon tax. In other words, Abbott intends to dismantle his predecessor's legacy, something Fraser did not attempt. It is a significant policy challenge, incorrectly classified by some as simple negativity.
Before the 1975 election Fraser talked about dismantling the Whitlam legacy, but did not do so after the election (with the exception of canning Medibank before it could take hold) despite a clear mandate to do so. Abbott can talk about dismantling the carbon pricing mechanism, the NBN, or a host of other aspects of the Rudd-Gillard legacy, but Abbott is not entitled to be believed so credulously as Henderson does, and as he hopes we might. Henderson should have examined the difficulty in reversing that legacy, or indeed the appropriateness and wisdom of doing so, before embarrassing himself with fanboy nonsense like that.
It is fashionable for sneering secularists and sectarians alike to mock Abbott's Catholic faith. In fact, he is a traditional Catholic who believes in human imperfection, forgiveness and eventual redemption. Abbott is no fanatic and is not without personal doubt.
The problem with that is that Abbott's personal feelings, real or imagined, do not translate into public policy. There was a time when Catholicism was regarded with the sort of suspicion that falls upon Islam today; it is the mark of a fanatic to believe that those days have not gone, and even Catholics recognise that Abbott lies outside the mainstream of his co-religionists. Abbott loves his lesbian sister but can't see why her relationship deserves the sort of recognition that accrues to the marriages of his other sisters, or to that of his wife and himself. He recognises that he had a privileged upbringing, but can't see that others need help to give their children similar opportunities. He wants a Jakarta-centred foreign policy, but Jakarta thinks he's a goose. He doesn't trust the lessons learned from his own life.

Abbott is a man who has cut himself off from his public policy positions that we can't be sure that he is strong enough to use his humanity for good. Consider Gillard's idealisation of education in her own life and that of children today, or Keating's passion for the arts proving that he was more than a NSW Labor Right bovver boy or a soulless economist. Consider Malcolm Fraser, the Defence Minister who waged war on Vietnam, bringing in refugees and daring Labor to reopen the door to "Yellow Peril". That was evidence of soul at work in the Prime Minister's office, the idea that atop he political system was a human being for all the maneuvering and hoo-ha. Abbott brings nothing to that, nothing. All sorts of monstrous people reveal some show of humanity to their intimates, and it does not negate or balance or even matter terribly much at all. Against this awful weakness, Abbott's strutting is absurd.

I'm not one of those Henderson hisses at so alliteratively. In any awful but vital job in our community there will be committed Christians: dealing with the mentally ill, prisoners, drug addicts, doing the most wretched work you can imagine with bugger-all resources, day after day. I am in awe of such people and even though Tony Abbott has been raised to respect if not revere such people, he regards them as do-gooders. The people who make him possible regard and treat them with contempt and Tony Abbott is not strong enough to stand up to them. That's why professions of Abbott's true and humble faith are nothing but so much bullshit.
Quite a few Liberals and commentators believed Labor's Bob Hawke did not have the discipline to be a political leader. He became one of Australia's most successful prime ministers.
Hawke gave the grog away. Abbott gives away nothing and gets nothing in return. Hawke surrounded himself with capable people who challenged him while Abbott shuns those who challenge him, surrounding himself with people who titter at his jokes and Peta Credlin. Desperate parallel after desperate parallel just dies on the page for Henderson. All those straw men and nothing to clutch at.

Gerard Henderson is a nostalgia act for editors rather than someone with something to contribute to our understandings of important debates today. Abbott is not Fraser in sluggos but Snedden with a rosary. Henderson's attempts to rally people behind Abbott is undermined by the fact that he hasn't read any books since he started writing them, and that his shock-jock writing style shows his powers of persuasion have deserted him. He repels all but the perishing few who would rally to Abbott regardless. He gives his Fairfax-reading opponents more hope than he might have intended.