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.


  1. Glad I wasn't the only one to notice how badly Abbott did in that interview by Uhlmann. You're right about Uhlmann - he's not much chop. But it was staggering to see how quickly he managed to get Abbott on the run - and keep him there. One minute Abbott's banging on about the Slipper allegations and calling for an election NOW, then Uhlmann politely puts the screamingly obvious point (you know, the one so obvious no-one else seems to have put it): 'well, if you an election NOW tell us NOW what would your government do'? Abbott's reaction was priceless: the mouth drops, the 'uhhhhhhhh' drags on, and then ... the same old slogans until the end of the interview. God knows why no-one else has tried it on him when he runs the line that 'all our policies will be released in due time before the election'. Well, if you're going to run around claiming we're a bee's dick away from one then you better be bloody well ready for it.

    1. I've given up watching 7.30.

  2. The bit that interests me in this is that all through 2011, Abbott acted as if he was just one filleted fish or stacked cardboard box away from gaining the Lodge, and in retrospect he looked rather foolish when the Government delivered 100% of its legislative agenda. Now we have the Government's margin in the House cut once again to a single vote, with Wilkie less pliant post the pokies backdown. Does this help or hinder Abbott? Will another entire year of acting like he's in the last week of a general election benefit his chances?

    I hope the public gets tired of his schtick. There was a period there before the Slipper stuff where the media was starting to come around to the idea that Abbott had nothing going on upstairs, and there were rumblings for some actual policy, or at least some sign of policy development. Another year of constant scandalisation is going to be tiresome.

    1. It can't go on for much longer. Both Slipper and Thomson are nearing their endgames.

    2. Well that is not true, Thomson has not been charged with anything and the worst he could be charged with is a small civil matter because the real rorting has been done by the so-called whistleblower nut case Kathy Jackson.

      And Fair work cannot possibly investigate things that have zero to do with his current employment when Fair work did not exist during his former employment.

      I know that is too simple for most but it is a fact.

      As for Slipper, note how the silly cab charge claims keep changing.

      But the question the lazy media has not asked is "how can the owner of a cab charge possibly benefit"?

      The only person who can benefit is the driver who can change the amount before handing it to the special minister of state's office for payment.

      But wait, the MP has a copy that he also has to hand in to the special minister of state - and he has an allowance of
      $20,000 to cover such things.

      As for the homophobia what does that say about the two openly gay senators at the moment as Leak and Farr titter like nitwits.

  3. Should Uhlmann really be conducting an 'interview' while he's working with Steve Lewis on a novel?

    I mean, he shouldn't be allowed near a microphone anyway, but surely he has some sort of conflict of interest?

    1. Is he really, that explains why Uhlmann was so quick to tweet to the defence of Lewis

    2. It's a matter for the ABC to be aware of; when he says that he's got a great idea for a story, and it involves his mate Steve Lewis, they should ask him to dig deeper rather than parrot Lewis.

  4. I was looking forward to your analysis/insight into the above situation. Particularly, some of the political conspiracy theories being banded about:

    1. Who is paying Ashby's legal bills? Actions in the Federal Court do not come cheap.

    2. Who paid for the "independent forensic Information
    Technology assessment and report" on the text messages?

    3. Is Ashby solvent in the case of failure of his application? Will he be able to pay costs if his case fails? Has he received guarantees of financial support? If so, by whom?

    4. Where is the evidence Ashby took genuine steps to have the matter mediated before he went to the Federal Court? Indeed, we are told of a "Genuine Steps" statement. Where is it? Slipper says he is "surprised" by the action. How could Slipper be "surprised" if the applicant took "Genuine Steps" to resolve the matter?

    On point 4, Crikey notes that they were in contact with Ashby who was supporting Slipper right up until the submission of Court documents.

    I would be sweet if the LNP done a Godwin on itself again.

    1. You'd need a bit of forensic journalism for that, and they are all poring over Cabcharge dockets at the moment.

  5. It doesn't seem like the wisest move for Uhlmann to be working with Murdoch's main attack dog in what has been obvious from the beginning. This is a coordinated political attack on the Government by the Murdoch press.

  6. Mea culpa, mea culpa.

    I've realised that in accepting Chris Uhlmann's description of Tony Abbott as the 'most effective Leader of the Opposition' earlier this week I've fallen into a trap too many of us have been led into.

    He's a lousy Leader of the Opposition, based on precisely the statistics that Uhlmann and his ilk have used to laud him as an effective one. The polls.

    The high rating of the Coalition in the voting-intention polls indicate that Tony Abbott IS a very effective leader of the Coalition in opposition - he's moved them into supposed landslide election winning status. Those numbers can't be argued with. They can be questioned, they can be analysed in terms of time remaining until election day, etc, etc, but looked at right now in this exact moment of time, they certainly support the claim that he has effectively led the Coalition to an election winning position. His own numbers are less rosy, but the Coalition is set to win.

    Great job for your party, Tony. But, another set of numbers indicate that the job you've done will not be good at all for the nation.

    The numbers that display how inept Tony Abbott is in the process of governance. "He's not in government!", I immediately hear the cry.

    No, he's not. But a truly "most effective Leader of the Opposition" would long since have been IN government, because a truly "most effective Leader of the Opposition" would have made it impossible for a government he opposed to govern. For that government to introduce and pass legislation. To maintain the day to day running of government and government financing of everything in Australia than runs on "taxpayers' dollars". To BE in government.

    The sheer number of bills passed and regulations applied, regardless of where anyone reading this stands on their impact or philosophical underpinning, displays that Tony Abbott has been utterly crap at stymying or tripping up this government at doing what national governments do. He's proved completely incapable in Parliament, the sourcespring of governance, of displaying any attribute at all of an 'alternative Prime Minister'.

    He's brought the election hustings into the chamber of the House of Representatives, treating the place where laws begin and are ratified and become integral to the way we all live, as if it were just a larger version of a Queanbeyan car repair shop or a franchise bakery in a shopping centre anywhere. I keep expecting him to pull a fluoro jacket out from under his table in the House of Representatives, or to wave his large-vehicle 'I could be a truckie if I had to' driving licence any moment.

    Certainly the endlessly and impotently raised censure motions have been nothing more than electioneering exercises, manifestly, since they have so spectacularly failed to garner parliamentary support from those listening, apart from his dragooned into line (rubberstamped pre-selected) Coalition members behind him.

    So I confess I have been accepting the phrase "most effective Leader of the Opposition" on the same basis as everyone else who's let it slip into common understanding through repetition alone.

    No more. Tony Abbott is what he is. A shouter. Nothing more.

    Shout long enough, loud enough, people are forced to hear. Keep shouting, and people start to listen.

    Tony Abbott is a very effective leader of the Coalition in opposition. He has been, anyway, in terms of blackguarding the Gillard Government. But where is the Coalition now? Even with the Slipper imbroglio playing out? Exactly where it was when Rob Oakeshott reached the final words of his 17 page speech just after the last election.

    In Opposition. Directly across the parliamentary chamber, but in real terms, just shouting from the sidelines for all the effect it has. Is that really the mark of a truly effective Leader of the Opposition?

    1. A moderately effective opposition leader would at least have had some input in legislation. Abbott has pretty much been entirely ignored in parliament. Shame the government doesn't give him the same treatment in public.

      On the matter of Slipper, Abbott and friends have said a lot of nonsense about how they've been trying to get rid of him but couldn't because of LNP merger rules. I seem to recall that those same rules were no impediment to getting rid of Michael Johnson.

    2. When the downfall comes it will come quickly. You're right about Johnson, but as with all intra-party affairs Abbot follows rather than leads.

  7. If Slipper decides to resume the Speaker's chair, the first days of Parliament will be really rowdy. Does he have access to some muscle to forcibly eject members?

  8. Another great article.

    Keep up the good work Andrew!

    1. Thankyou, Abbott should just stick to his day job as a television personality.

  9. I always come to this site for some clear sighted analysis and sanity - thanks Andrew.

    I think Nicola Roxon should have applied the metaphor of a lynch mob mentality more widely - there is serious madness in the MSM and Twitter over this issue.

  10. Back last November I was truly perplexed when Labor chose to make itself hostage to fortune by courting the baggage-laden Slipper and bouncing Harry solely because there seemed to be no reason for it. After all for the past year Labor had governed successfully with a majority of 1 on the back of Julia having locked in Windsor, Oakeshott and Wilkie and had passed all the legilsation it had put to the House.

    A couple of months later, of course, we learned the motive was to shore up the vote because the prime minister was intending to break her WRITTEN deal with Wilkie. That was another Labor move I'd never anticpated. Interestingly the other day Xeno said that he had heard of the plan some 4-5 weeks before Slip was announced but had dismissed it as highly unlikely rumour.

    Alas, government's difficulty today is that those three Indies all share "ownership" of Speaker Slipper. Wilkie waved it through at the time apparently not suspecting the raison d'etre was to shaft him and his pokie reform. Oakeshott says his concerns had been allayed by Albo's assurances that there would be no future issues with Slipper.

    It is the "ownership" of these three that will ensure, absent Ashby withdrawing the sleaze harassment allegations, that Speaker Slipper does not take the chair until the matter is resolved. Even then I would doubt that Oakeshott will wear a Slipper return. Nor will his relations with Albo the Indie Wrangler be quite the same again.

    While admiring the hutzpah in the suggestion that it is Abbott who is to blame for the govt's current predicament because he was too gormless to get the LNP off Slipper's case, I suspect that the reverse is more likely: that Abbott, no doubt having heard the same rumour as Xeno, judged that if the govt was stupid enough to appoint Slipper and shaft Wilkie it would best for the coalition not to put any impediment in its way. Indeed, even encourage it?

    1. I think both sides orchestrated Slipper into the speakership and seems govt was outplayed. Would like to see more regarding "ownership" implications for indies.

    2. No, go for the stupid. They would be a lot further ahead than they are had there been forethought and planning.

  11. Well now it appears the story is from 10 years ago and was about Slippers old driver 10 years ago.

    I wonder what the rabid press gallery will do when no charges are laid against either man and they have destroyed them with their own prejudices and biased bigotry.

  12. "A couple of months later, of course, we learned the motive was to shore up the vote because the prime minister was intending to break her WRITTEN deal with Wilkie."

    That is simply not true. The WRITTEN deal covers many issues, from Question Time and the Hobart hospital through to pokie reform. Every demand of the WRITTEN deal was met, up to the pokie reform, which simply did not have the numbers to get through the lower house.

    Gillard went out of her way to negotiate an agreement on this and Wilkie did not lift a finger to help, not one finger. He just sat back, watched Gillard do all the hard work and then chucked another hissy fit. It's clear the sole concern of Andrew Wilkie is Andrew Wilkie. He could have accepted a compromise, could have helped get as close to what he wanted as possible, but no, he just wanted to be on the news again.

    Personally, I would love to see more done about pokie reform, but the political reality says otherwise. And to say Gillard broke the agreement when: a) the agreement is multifacete; and b) she tried to reach a compromise on the pokie reform is nonsense.

  13. Tony Abbott is a cock sucking leach.
    The sooner he fucks off the better we will all be.

    FUCK OFF Rabbit Man