16 July 2012

Sounding the Tom-Tom

This piece by Tom Switzer shows what happens when rightwing trolls get impressive-sounding titles but don't develop any social skills or any understanding of the field in which they purport to work. The title of this post is a bad pun but so are all those "Malcolm in the middle" references; a tom-tom is an empty vessel and while it can make a great sound, it is silent and inert until other forces act upon it. It is important not to regard Switzer as any kind of mover-and-shaker in himself but as a vessel for others.

That article shows the Liberal right are rattled. Tony Abbott is a barrier to the prospect of a Coalition government next year, but he is the most consistent rightwinger (if Abbott fell under a bus they would have to swing behind Kevin Andrews, and nobody wants that). If Abbott were not leader, the Coalition could plan for government more securely than it can at the moment, and present a mature and confident agenda to the people at the next election. As it stands, all Coalition resources are consumed with organising the next stunt, which might be all very well for an episode of dirtgirlworld but not for an alternative government. The Coalition under Abbott treat policy as an afterthought, so that Coalition frontbenchers and even senior business leaders sound like dills when they have nothing with which to press their advantage but half-baked talking points. That's why Liberal polling is not "a consistent pattern" but a mirage.

Stunts are all very well, but there must be an agenda behind them or they will have no lasting effect in terms of voting intentions. This is the lesson that Howard taught in 1995-96, but which Abbott has not learned; Howard could pull a stunt as well as anyone but he knew they were nothing without a consistent and substantial idea of what the Coalition would do in office.

The right were happy to keep the Coalition out of office indefinitely for the sake of purity. The fact that Abbott did well at the 2010 election surprised them as much as anyone else. The main reason for this is because Labor - and Kevin Rudd in particular - frittered away the goodwill their public gave them in 2007. The Liberals only do well when, and because, two things happen:
The proof of this is when Gillard gets up on her hind legs and dishes back to the Coalition what they dish out - they cannot cope and suffer a kind of political reflux when the government refuses to accept their narrative. Compare that to the calm progression of Barry O'Farrell in response to the meaningless activity of Kristina Keneally in NSW; Keneally was and is what dead-in-the-water looks like - Gillard isn't. O'Farrell had a long time to contemplate what it meant to govern New South Wales, and where he's struck trouble are in areas that he assumed were covered by others (in contrast to Rudd, whose control-freakery led to policy and political failure). O'Farrell has a political ballast that Abbott lacks. This is why he beat Abbott for the job of NSW State Director of the Liberal Party in 1994, and twenty years on it will explain why O'Farrell will feature in speculation about post-Abbott futures for the Federal Liberals.

Those moments of political reflux that cripple Abbott (and which have been happening increasingly frequently) cannot be explained by sad sacks like this or that who insist that Labor is bound for inevitable decline because people don't join unions or whatever. Australia can't be sustained on what little Abbott offers up, and Abbott's evanescent polling success cannot be seriously interpreted as though it can or will or must.

As for the Liberal right, their position is interesting: they got where they are by being rightwing but they can go no further by continuing on the same path:
  • If Abbott had been just a little open to the NBN and the possibility of even considering some sort of limited emissions trading scheme (say, based on soil carbon for farmers or CCS boondoggles), he'd be Prime Minister now.
  • The independents who stand between Abbott (and hangers-on like Switzer) and government - all conservative blokes - are just as determined to keep Tony Abbott out of office as any rusted-on rank-and-file trade unionist.
This is a political and tactical failure on Abbott's part, and on the part of those who run the Liberal right (Minchin, Abetz) it is a strategic, structural failure. All that no, no, no is Abbott being pure, the most purely rightwing leader in his party's history. In the neighbourhood where I live, dogs that are chained up bark and snarl much more than dogs that have the run of their yard; when you understand that, Abbott makes more sense than he might otherwise, and those who hate or fear The Situation might come to pity him eventually.

Now that we have dealt with the big issues, let us listen as with fresh ears to the echoes of the Tom-Tom. He doesn't start at all well:
What is it about Malcolm Turnbull that enraptures so many people?

At swanky dinner parties across town, you can be sure eyes will light up at the mere mention of the climate enthusiast, gay marriage advocate and former republican activist ...
"Climate enthusiast"! How on earth do you expect the guy to do any sensible analysis when he starts with silly descriptors like that? Does Switzer's penchant for turning conditioned air into poison gas make him an "oxygen enthusiast"? As for "gay marriage advocate", this is simply wrong. Like any good conservative, Switzer is puzzled by the future and bewildered by the present, but only the past is certain enough for him to get a grip on.
Take last week's Q & A ...
Oh, please - this pointy-headed academic seriously believes that a taxpayer-funded television program is a window into the soul of the nation.
... a panellist held up a placard which proclaimed "MALCOLM for PM" and implored her fellow guest to challenge Tony Abbott. With that, the studio audience burst into wild applause.
You'll notice that Q & A guests such as Sophie Mirabella or Christopher Pyne don't inspire the same reaction. Considered advice from Tom-Tom helped put Brendan Nelson where he is today, and at the time even committed Liberals couldn't quite come at "BRENDAN for PM" signs in public; so let's have a good look at history as Tom-Tom would have us do.
But an account of Turnbull's record as opposition leader three years ago helps explain why ordinary Australians shrug their shoulders with a profound lack of interest. All that he displayed as leader was an ignorance of his party's core beliefs, a detachment from a clear majority of the electorate, and his own arrogance and inexperience.
In 1992, the same indictment could have been was levelled at John Howard. Thank goodness we've go some of that historical perspective goodness, eh Tom-Tom?
Go back to those dark days of 2009 ... The Liberals lost their credentials as economic managers. And the leader's personal disapproval rating skyrocketed.
Leaving aside the polldust, the Liberals have not - in three years, and despite losing an election in the meantime - recovered economic credibility. Turnbull's disapproval as leader is about where Howard's was in the 1980s ad it's where Abbott's is now. Live by the polls, die by them - but conservatism is all about timeless truths, right? That, and light-entertainment shows on commercial television:
And yet Turnbull looked like one of those doctors in Grey's Anatomy who had observed the ailment but misdiagnosed it.
Grey's Anatomy has the same name as a medical textbook, which is why Tom-Tom has assumed that the show has the same authority as the textbook. Easy mistake to make, but no less a mistake for that.

Turnbull's most significant misdiagnosis was to stand against the economic policies of Rudd and Swan that pumped public money into the Australian economy as the global financial crisis was sucking money from it. He assumed that cost overruns on a school hall here or something else there was too trivial to worry about, whereas gruntback radio and Tony Abbott thought this kind of stuff was the main game. When Tom-Tom says:
Turnbull had failed to grasp that the key to successful opposition is to make and win arguments.
Sweating the small stuff and overlooking the forest/trees distinction is the key to staying in opposition, as Abbott is showing, not the key to moving from opposition to government. Tom-Tom makes this mistake in his key attack on Turnbull's legacy:
He insisted that failure to support Labor's emissions trading scheme would destroy the Coalition.

Journalists admired him for his courage and conviction in trying to stare down the party's sceptics. But it was a foolish and dangerous tactic, one that would be his undoing, and reveal his lack of political nous once and for all.
If Turnbull had survived as leader and Rudd had dropped the ETS, Turnbull would have gained the reputation for political nous that happened to fall on Abbott. The issue of government imposing an economic disincentive to carbon emissions can't be politicked away, and Tom-Tom is merely being sentimental in refusing to admit defeat.

Turnbull's position on climate change within the Liberal Party today is similar to that of Winston Churchill in British politics during the 1930s. The left of politics, from the mildest social democrat to the most radical communist, was opposed to Hitler. The right of politics was ambivalent at best, resenting the prospect of another costly war and its various appalling costs; the far right at the time included people who actually admired Hitler, crediting him for economic management and overlooking his human rights abuses. Churchill's economic management reputation wasn't great either, having been Chancellor of the Exchequer before and during the Great Depression. It was a lonely place to be, but Churchill stuck to his guns and won Conservatives over once the evidence in favour of his position could no longer be brushed aside.

Tom-Tom mocks Turnbull in his political loneliness and his out-of-step beliefs in similar childish terms to the mocking of Churchill by 1930s UK Conservatives. It's a classic dilemma of party politics that a successful party (that is, a party that can win elections and hold government, not just one that can bang away from opposition and attract journalists to its stunts) must be able both to hold its base and appeal to those beyond its base. I am aware of recent evidence from the United States which says that the base is more important than "the sensible centre", but for a range of reasons (about which, more later) that evidence does not translate to the Australian experience as well as those to blame for Tom-Tom might hope.
Such a strategy might resonate with global warmists who, in any case, won't vote for the party of Menzies.
The party of Menzies is nowhere in evidence:
  • Menzies put Australian immigration officials in strife-torn areas and facilitated the migration of hundreds of thousands of people by passenger liner and aeroplane to Australia.
  • Menzies recognised that the bounty from mining was to be invested in tertiary education and skills training.
  • Menzies knew that plutocrats were to be kept at a distance and were not to be seen to be influencing, let alone directing, policy outcomes to the extent that Rinehart and Palmer do.
  • Menzies was not a scientist, but he would have interrogated someone like Monckton to the point where his vaudeville act would have been a national laughing-stock.
  • Robert Menzies would never have been caught dead in a pair of sluggos.
Turnbull is more in tune with the party of Menzies than Abbott. This is why people who would never vote for an Abbott-led Liberal Party might vote for much the same party were it led by Turnbull. Had Turnbull held to the ETS and had the Liberal Party held to Turnbull, who knows what might have happened?
But it is self-evidently not in tune with middle Australia, where the centre of political gravity is decidedly to the right of your typical Q&A audience on a cold winter's night. To slam Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt might appeal to trendies in Glebe and Newtown, but it alienates your own people in the suburbs.
This bundle of begged questions and straw men is at the very heart of Tom-Tom's argument:
  • Bolt and Jones aren't middle Australia. Nobody who voted Coalition up to 2004, but who has voted Labor since 2007, buys what those characters are selling.
  • Glebe and Newtown aren't happy hunting grounds for the Liberals either. Nobody pretends they are. It's stupid even pretending that the Liberal Party led by Malcolm Turnbull would want to devote time and effort seeking votes there.
  • Depends what you mean by "slam[ming] Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt". Telling them that making the Clarence River flow westward rather than east is silly? Telling them that their jihad against any measures to abate climate change are against the national interest? Telling them that Aborigines can't define who Aborigines are? Telling them that it isn't "illegal" for people fleeing persecution to seek asylum here? Telling them that what attracts people to their business, and what's in the national interest - is that "slamming" them, let's have more of it. People need good government more than they need gibberers on the radio or TV.
  • Depends also what you mean by "your own people". If you have to put a few noses out of joint in safe seats on Sydney's North Shore to secure the extra votes that will win a seat in Melbourne, are you prepared to do it? Not if you're Tony Abbott or Tom-Tom, you don't. This is another reason why the polling numbers need not be so scary - I predict Abbott will make Liberal seats safer and will alienate Liberal voters in marginal seats, so that Labor picks up a few seats to win majority government.
Doesn't look so impressive once you unpack it. More like a defensive rant, the sort of thing on which Howard or David Clarke built formidable power-bases within the Liberal Party, but which leave everyone else outside the Liberal Party - including previously enthusiastic Liberal voters - cold.
Turnbull ran to the left of his party, even publicly denouncing his colleagues. Liberal Party members had been upset for months, angered by what they saw as their leader falling over himself to accommodate Labor at every turn. But discontent had also spread into the federal parliamentary party. A rebellion on his front and backbenches presaged his downfall.
Turnbull stayed where he had been as John Howard's Environment Minister. Howard took an ETS to the 2007 election. He didn't run anywhere, it was Minchin and Abbott and gutless little hangers-on like Tom-Tom or Tony Smith who ran to the media and began backgrounding them. If the right wing wanted to trash the Howard legacy in order to save it, that was up to them; let's not be confused about who did the running.
By making the case against Kevin Rudd's ETS, and then Julia Gillard's carbon tax, Liberals have won back key segments of working and lower-middle class families who are mortgaged to the hilt. These pragmatic and patriotic voters, based in Sydney's outer west and Queensland's sun-belt seats, are primarily motivated by hip-pocket issues.

For these folks ...
Kevin Rudd referred to them as "folks" and talked about them, then delivered bugger-all for them. They voted against a government that flinched; they did not vote for a restoration of a government that was "dead, buried, cremated" as Tom-Tom and his pals would have you imagine. Abbott is offering no to this and no to that and bugger-all of everything else, which is why his polling numbers can't hold up: not in outer Sydney, not in Queensland, not anywhere but the already safe Liberal seats.

Abbott is like one of those CEOs who pumps up the share price and makes off with the loot at a time of his choosing; only now is it becoming clear to everyone but Tom-Tom that he does not set the timing, and that there is no payoff for any shareholder other than himself.
Labor's policy to increase energy prices when our trade competitors refuse to decarbonise their economies is not in the national interest.
If you regard the United States as Australia's only "trade competitor", an understandable bit of tunnel-vision from an academic at the US Studies Centre, this is a valid point. If not, then it isn't. I guess that's slamming Tom-Tom - but reality isn't my fault, I am just pointing it out.
Nor is it a vote winner, especially during a global financial crisis.
Tom-Tom was offered one of the safest Liberal seats in the country on a platter, and squibbed declined it. The fate of Brendan Nelson - and yes, his defeat by Turnbull and Tom-Tom's erstwhile colleague Peta Credlin - show that Tom-Tom is not yer go-to man on questions of what does or doesn't win votes.
Turnbull demonstrated precious little evidence of competence. Recall the Godwin Grech scandal: here he was calling for the treasurer and prime minister to resign on the basis of what turned out to be a concocted email produced by an eccentric bureaucrat.
I recall that: Grech wasn't some lifelong friend of Turnbull's, it was Eric Abetz who set up his leader with that particular tar-baby impeccable source. This, along with the treatment of Mr Grech since he went from Treasury official to national fall-guy, is what Abetz (and, by extension, Tom-Tom) calls "loyalty".
If Abbott had shown such appalling judgment, the press gallery would have written him off.
James Ashby and Kathy Jackson put the lie to that.
In the eyes of the media, however, Turnbull is the Teflon politician who is virtually immune to criticism.
Refer again to the Peatling article, or anything written in the tech press. The media coverage that Turnbull gets now is about the same that Abbott got when he excreted Battlelines. One of the key lessons in politics that Tom-Tom and his owners fail to learn is the need for compliance with the What's Sauce For The Goose Is Sauce For The Gander Act, a law far more binding than any bill that might pass a fractious parliament.
In fairness to Turnbull ...
Tom-Tom thinks that faint praise constitutes "fairness", a failing common to his compadres. It's just sad that Turnbull's breadth of knowledge can be understood by Tom-Tom only as digression.
The cold, hard reality, though, is that since he replaced Turnbull in late 2009, the conservative vote has dramatically increased.
It went as far as it can go a couple of years ago, and no further: not far enough to get into government.
Moreover, since Gillard's controversial backflip 16 months ago, the Coalition has convincingly led Labor in the polls. The carbon tax continues to rile a lot of Australians.
Polls count for nothing; governing is all and the fixed carbon price (soon to be replaced with an ETS) is on its way to becoming a non-issue. Abbott is not going to undo it, because it would be too expensive and there's more to governing this country than paying "compensation" to big companies. Besides, the guy is a piker and quite the backflipper himself.
It is also the main point of difference between Abbott and Turnbull.
Turnbull voted against the government's carbon price, Tom-Tom - surely loyalty counts for something?
Abbott might be a boo-word in polite society, a shorthand for extremism, negativity and John Howard on steroids.
Or, he might be the kind of thing that gets stuck to your shoe when you're walking down the street: not just unpleasant but unnecessary.
For any politician, the big danger is vanity and a belief in his own publicity.
Oh, that's rich: take away Abbott's vanity and his publicity and there isn't much there, Tom-Tom. Not for those of us who aren't Tony Abbott.
... Turnbull's sense of entitlement to the Liberal leadership. But the obsessions of metropolitan sophisticates are of little interest in the parliamentary party and most parts of the nation.
Whistling past the graveyard, my little friend.

What we have here is attack-as-defence. It would not be necessary to denounce Turnbull unless Abbott - and all that he stands for, the Dream of Howard Restoration - were under threat. The rightwing might be able to bunker down and wait for ever but the Liberal Party is a governing machine; a good win under Turnbull would beat another close-but-no-cigar result under Abbott. As it stands, Abbott's consistence favours nobody so well as Labor: he looks like the hinge upon which the loose and banging gate of this government will eventually pivot and click back into place.

To take a rightwing trope and fashion it as an Aussie boomerang, Switzer is one of those pointy-headed academics with no idea how the real world works, shuffling between Sydney Uni and Canberra with little care or thought for the rest of the country that he and his nanny-state compadres cannot believe they have been denied the right to govern, and govern in their own way. The irony is that Turnbull is big enough to overlook this bagatelle and offer Switzer a job, whereas Switzer has been sent out to do a dirty job on a man much better than he by people who are even less than this.

Tom Switzer does not understand Malcolm Turnbull either, and he is someone he has known and worked with for many years. After reading this, you have to wonder: what does Tom-Tom know? People who follow his advice come a-gutser, so why would you listen to him - unless it is to hear the growing drumbeat of rightwingers fearing that their ride is over, that after Ciobo and Coonan the Liberal right have moved from insurgency to decadence without any intervening period of achievement.


  1. Bushfire Bill17/7/12 7:48 am

    I received the same message as you Mr. Welder.

    Pieces like Switzer's wouldn't be written unless there was a perceived threat.

    The same goes for the incessant braying of the Right over polls.

    If they were so cocksure of themselves as they try to make out they are, we wouldn't have the neverending bragging about polling figures.

    In short, they can't believe their luck. They think they NEED luck to win. They're pinching themselves every time a new poll shows them in front by four lengths.

    The stunts keep multiplying (and keep getting slavishly covered by ABC 24, which never seems to have "technical audio problems" when Abbott's wearing a reflector vest).

    Poor sods in small businesses keep lining up to have their photo and TV ops with Abbott, not realising that most of them come a cropper soon after. Ask Brumby's. Ask Gerry Harvey (Gerry's been pretty quiet lately, you may have noticed, as he contemplates the results of his telling the world what a crappy business model he oversees). Ask the pizza lady who whinged yesterday that a 1c increase in the cost of pizza boxes was sending her broke.

    Ask James Ashby and Karen Doane, and Kathy Jackson, who are about to find out what "lonely" means.

    And then ask all the businesses who have come to perfectly rational, logical conclusions about Climate Change, who believe that we can't keep polluting our atmosphere with greenhouse gases without serious consequences, and who have hopped on the climate train.

    Ask them when Abbott's election fetish takes it all away from them in a mindless assault on good science more akin to book burning than good governance.

    The punters whose love Abbott craves have always hated him. He can win a poll but hasn't won an election yet. The objects of his desire don't think he can but they'll go along for the ride while its sort of fun. Then they'll get rid of him as soon as the beer runs out.

    Winning the pre-race popularity contest is all well and good, as is being the darling of the media. But, as the Thorpedo found out, it's winning in the pool that counts.

    1. Ive noticed a script over time, as though there is a time line in for wardrobe decisions

      First we had sport attire, bike riding surfing, and other pursuit s, all the necessary gear for out door guy,'s
      Then the beach boy gear the life saver images,
      then we moved to the workmen saftey glasses jackets, trucks buldozers
      kissing fish,
      Now i see suits and last week a flag draped in a similar way to the one in the pms office
      Was this to attract certain voters along the the way, reminds me of the pied piper,
      What next one can only wait and see, what the decision makers
      Will decide will attract the next group of voters.
      Or will the merry go round of out fits be repeated, like policy no new ideas

    2. I agree you, Bushfire Bill. Abbott is high maintenance. He needs a lot of propping up and Credlin is his seeing-eye dog. As PM they couldn't keep the lid on his destructive attitudes and actions. They will have to depose him.

  2. You have nothing, nothing at all to base your opinion about the future of Abbott other than your own baseless hope.
    Sorry, but I'll keep my faith in the polls as imperfect as they are. Abbott WILL be next PM. Nothing can stop that now.

    1. Lachlan Ridge17/7/12 10:20 am

      Bill Sneddden thought a very similar thing once.

      Faith is a beautiful thing to behold, but I'll stick with the peer reviewed science thanks.

    2. Stephen, I've been clear about what will happen and why, in this post and over several hundred posts over many years. No need to apologise for holding a different opinion, except you misunderstand how democracy works.

  3. People seem to have forgotten that Turnbull lost the NO Coalition leader role by one (that's 1) vote. And it was Slipper's vote that got Phoney Tony over the line.
    While I hope that your view that Phoney Tony will never be Prime Minister comes to fruition, I suspect that the voting populace have galloped back into what is Australia's greatest failing -- inherent conservatism.
    At a time when we need to be visionary and outward looking in order to deal with a rapidly changing global climate (and I not only refer to Anthropogenic Climate Change) and the rebalancing of global power, we are reduced to a bunch of Hanrahan's in an country that has weathered the global financial crisis pretty well undamaged.
    An ultra-conservative NO Coalition government led by Phoney Tony will take us back to continuing down the track of the free marketeering Americanisation of Australia. Should the voters do what I suspect they will do at the next Federal election then they will only have themselves to blame for at least three terms of disastrous retrograde government. I will be voting Labor but suspect I'll be in the minority!

    1. Lachlan Ridge17/7/12 10:44 am

      As much as I admire your passion, your Juche-like sloganeering is not helping. It may be just me, but it's about as witty as cornflakes.

      Referring to the leader of the opposition by his birth name and the political party he leads by theirs will not see voters dashing off to support them.

      That said, I am having an email conversation with an old mate who's been around a bit of politics in this life. He is like the poster above - adamant that Abbott will win. I'm working on a reply to his latest missive and the guts of it is that he has missed the national mood.

      Yes, people loathe Gillard. Yes, people are pissed off with the ALP. But they are also aware of frying pans and fires. And I cannot see anything like the mood for change that we saw in '75, '83, '96 or '07.

      My mate makes the good point that Abbott is not the bible thumping holy roller he is made out to be. He is just another Machiavellian schmuck who lkearnt bastardry 101 in student politics and would sell his mother to get the top job. He told Tony Windsor words to that effect.

      But the question people will ask is what would he do? And Tony can't answer that question because I don't think even he knows, and he won't have a senate to do it with anyway. SO unless everything goes through parliament as a money bill (PNG style!) then all he's got to play with is a few regulations (and if you don't understand what I'm talking about then for god's sake learn how government works).

      The media has a fix on this government, but the media won't decide the next election. In case anyone hasn't noticed people are switching off the mainstream media (in all its forms) in droves. Ask Mr Elder how many people were reading this blog even three years ago compared to today? And this is just one small blog in a big wide world of argument.

      It's what people do with the pencil in the polling booth that matters, and I'm hoping to hell that the coalition put Abbott's mug on their How To Vote cards.

      As well as seats in the Victorian mortgage belt I'd add Macarthur, Macquarie and Hughes in NSW. And as for Queensland, The Tasmanian lad will have been Premier for a year and a half by the time the next election rolls around, and don't discount what a road block for Abbott the O'Farrell, Baillieu (if he's still leading the Victorian Libs!) and Barnett governments will be in 2013.

    2. I think Lachlan has summed it up pretty well. Whilst the polls are dire and the vehemence against the government (and Gillard in particular) are both real and widespread, it's still a good year away until the election in all likelihood. As they say, a week is a long time in politics, so a year is an eternity.

      There's a reason why polls are overly reliable this far out from an election and that's because people aren't faced with the serious choice, so polls are a good means of venting. But picking a name on a ballot paper is different from having a chat with a polling company.

      The other issue here is that Abbott is a real wild card. He's quixotic and unpredictable, which aren't good qualities in a leader. But it's so far out to the election that he's not challenged, his gaffes are those of an opposition leader, not a prospective PM. But as he gets closer to the election, his ability to slip out of substantive answers to questions evaporates, and the consequences for obfuscation and prevarication intensify. His positions to date have some massive holes - he has a bunch of policies which reduce government revenue and increase government spending. These amorphous statements about cuts to unnecessary government expenditure will need to take shape or he'll be in all sorts of bother.

      The other factor though is the government's ability to stuff things up. The NSW Labor right needs to be muzzled and bad judgement calls need to come to an end - Mr Abbott isn't the only one who can stumble, and there have been plenty of stumbles on the way.

      And as Lachlan also points out, the big states all have Liberal governments now, Liberal governments that are giving people a taste of what an Abbott government would bring - unemployed public servants by the building and service cuts left, right and centre. Whilst there's a honeymoon (well at least here in Queensland), it won't last forever and the public will learn that you can't improve a state economy by strangling it.

      If Abbott does win, it won't take people long to realise they've been duped - I'll at least get some satisfaction watching him either create a disaster from implementing his policies (which at this stage spell mega-deficit), or doing credibility destroying back-flips which will make Gillard look like an angel. Mr Abbott will learn that you need to be very, very careful what you wish for.

    3. There's a reason why polls are [not] overly reliable this far out from an election and that's because people aren't faced with the serious choice, so polls are a good means of venting.

      I sympathise and certainly hope you're right, but I can't help but remember Liberal Party supporters making exactly the same argument all through late 2006 up until early November 2007. They, too, swore black and blue that the polls couldn't be saying what they seemed to be saying.

      It would be good to hear why the polls that consistently predicted the Coalition's downfall over a 12-month period were accurate, whilst those currently predicting the ALP's downfall are not. Has the methodology changed significantly in five years? Did they just get lucky in being correct in 2007?

    4. "My mate makes the good point that Abbott is not the bible thumping holy roller he is made out to be."

      Lachlan, this is either a clear example of clever sarcasm, or your mate is surely not Michelle Grattan, because it was Grattan who said: Abbott has always "worn his Catholicism on his sleeve", he is "clearly frustrated by the obsession with [it] and what might hang off that""
      To say that Abbott is not the bible thumping holy roller could be missing the forest for the trees. We all know that he was a former Catholic seminarian, and before that, a product of two Jesuit schools. His Catholicism seems to directly influence many of his policy decisions including his vehement opposition to the abortion drug RU-486, stem cell research, and, euthanasia. He would prefer it if abortions were rare.

      Bizarrely, in February 2006, he said, "We have a bizarre double standard, a bizarre double standard in this country where someone who kills a pregnant woman's baby is guilty of murder but a woman who aborts an unborn baby is simply exercising choice."

      His comment that a woman's virginity is a precious gift, is really, a statement that speaks volumes of his religiosity.

      He would seek a return to the at-fault divorce agreement between couples, to make divorce harder to achieve. He is also famously against gay marriage, much to the dismay of his sister (who can forget his Drum piece titled: Not for Adam and Steve [a clear biblical reference].

      Earlier in his life he has written for The Catholic Weekly, and currently he describes the Cardinal George Pell as "one of the greatest churchmen that Australia has seen". Malcolm Farr says that "Cardinal George Pell has been a spiritual adviser to Tony Abbott and he would have provided welcomed guidance to the Opposition Leader over the years". Coincidentally, both Pell and Abbott share very similar ambiguous views on climate change.

      Surely, if one was to suggest that Abbott's deep religious conviction has not directly influenced his political life, it could only be done with tongue planted firmly in cheek? Just as his own tongue must be lodged in his cheek when he suggests fierce opposition towards gay marriage, which technically means he is in favour of gay couples living in sin!

  4. I certainly think a lot of what you're saying is right. The News Ltd media and Abbott are desperately insecure and bridle at any suggestion of scrutiny or criticism. Their incessant, constant, never ending sound and fury is not born of confidence but increasing desperation as they try again and again to finally blugeon this government into submission. They understand only too well that their entire narrative, their entire pitch for the last five years is built on lies and deception. A series of smears against a broadly successful government

    The danger for the government is that News Ltd appear to have won over the NSW right to this deluded fantasy and if they shift to Rudd the entire government might disintegrate completely. Polls may come and go but if Labor don't hold their nerve and actually fight back against Abbott's smears and slogans then we really are stuffed

    1. Excellent point KnifeySpoony; yes the MSM is desperate to retain the status quo, because, look what's at stake... according to Malcolm Fraser, "In present circumstances the print media espouses the most conservative economic policies. Policies that will enhance the obscene wealth of those who are already extraordinarily wealthy, that will probably bind us even more tightly as a client state of the United States. No competition, no diversity, making it harder for people to make up their own mind, because people will not be given the choices as they were once given the choices. So much for Australia’s print media."

      And, who does Fraser blame? In part he blames our governments; “For some time, Australian governments seem to have suggested that it does not matter who owns the print media, or for that matter television, perhaps a more powerful instrument for propaganda... That may not matter if other forms of media can come to have greater and greater influence – but if politicians still believe the print media has a significant influence on policy and opinion, then we will be seeing policies sold to the highest bidder.” [http://theconversation.edu.au/malcolm-fraser-does-it-matter-who-owns-our-papers-yes-it-does-7738]”

      No wonder he is now a pariah within Liberal ranks.

  5. Andrew,

    My take on Turnbull is that he is actually a Lib who I could vote for (and that's saying something as I consider myself to more or less in the centre of the political spectrum on ecomomic issues but left(ish) on social values and have never had a Lib party leader I felt I could suppoert getting the top job in the 18 years or so I've been voting).

    That said, I think the Grech incident showed that Turnbull, like the current ALP mob, don't do politcics all that weel. This is probably a good thing from a policy perspective but attrocious when it comes to actually implementing anything that needs to be done.

    I'd love to see Abbott stumble but I don't think he will, rather, he will die a slow political death as the next election looms as Australia (and NSW and Qld in particular) realise that his only real policy is to slash and burn the public sector and by that time they will see the damage that same policy is doing to their States - just watch the Qlders move away from the LNP in the next 6 mths or so. Likewise WA will see that the whole ETS/Mining Tax scare campaign hasn't done didly swat to the precious lifestyles and begin to wonder what the fuss was all about.

    In Short, the Fed LNP will be undone by the State governments living proof of what it will be like under an Abbott Government.

  6. Yes, Tom Tom's piece seemed a very low content partisan tirade (and in the "lefty" fairfax papers, too!). The simplistic argument and insulting tone added nothing to the discussion at all.

  7. I think the pollsters all need a good long holiday and I have heard there is a luxury resort with maximum privacy happening out there on Christmas Island.

    But I am sick to death of everyone claiming Rudd had no policy successes when the fact is he didn't have time before the GFC hit and he had a sore loser liberal majority senate to cope with as well.

    The policies being done now are mostly Rudd's, but Rudd's were superior.

    And if you want a control freak look not further than Gillard, she is worse than anyone ever said Rudd was.

  8. I'm amazed that the author actually thinks as I do: Abbott will not be PM.

    I've picked every election for the past 40 years and I doubt I will be wrong on this one. And one of my gauges is how my friends think and the majority are Nat voters who deplore Abbott and basically see him as a thug. True conservatives do not like Abbott.

    I've also never taken note of polls despite the ABC grilling a pollster just yesterday who made all sorts of claims about the country after polling 1800 out of 22 million. That is simply voodoo science.

    I've also always seen Abbott's sheer desperation on wanting a snap election as a clue: he fears delivering his policies to the public/ And that is what will kill his chances-work choices 2, especially after Labor swing into action in early 2013 with an almighty scare campaign that will go on and on while the climate charge will be forgotten.

    There is a reason that British PM Harold Wilson said "7 days is a long time in politics" and it's because the media forgets it time and time again.

  9. Andrew

    While I agree with your views on the lightweight Abbott and the sham of a press gallery we are forced to endure on a daily basis, I still think we are doomed to an Abbott PM.

    For Abbott not to be PM requires a united Labor Party. Indeed, a united Labor Party would have seen off such a lightweight long before another election. Obviously, Labor's internal war is going nowhere and, in my view, will continue at least until the next election and probably longer (especially if defeated).

    I have no experience of politics as you do, but in my experience Australians usually don't vote for a party as riddled with divisions as Labor currently is. They may not like Abbott - and I personally have no doubt of the damage his Tea Party tactics have already done and would continue to do to this country - but I think they'll choose stability over division.

    For the sake of our future I hope I'm wrong!

    1. Lachlan Ridge18/7/12 1:42 pm

      Read Vere Gordon Childe's How Labor Governs.

      Once you have read it you will understand that the ALP has never been united, and never will be, but is a heck of an electoral machine.

      Childe's was published in 1923 and could have been released last week for its insight into the fundamental contradictions of the ALP and the sort of people it promotes. It's one of the five must-read books for Australian politics but is sadly unfashionable in this day and age.

      In a clumsy segue I should mention that Vere Gordon Childe was the secretary to NSW ALP Premier John Storey, before becoming so disgusted with politics he wrote that book and then went off to Europe to become a giant in the world of archaeology, before returning to Australia and throwing himself off a cliff in Blackheath in 1957. He was the template for the movie charachter Indiana Jones.

      Incredible country and people this Australia.

      It will be the desire for stability that you sense that we see Australians vote for more of the same from Ms Gillard.

  10. Ian Milliss18/7/12 11:21 am

    One thing to add to the mix. There is an El Nino summer between now and the election and if it is anything like the current US summer you might find a fairly dramatic increase in the number of people unimpressed by Abbott's climate change denialism.

  11. Azrael the Cat18/7/12 6:27 pm

    Not a bad article, though I'm wondering whether it's time to start revising your hypothesis about Abbot's fortunes given the lack of any signs of life from Labour. If anything, this is becoming more and more of a testement to how important it is to have the major media companies onside - if they love one side and detest the other, then even someone like Abbot can romp it in.

    And yes I'm aware of the miserable readership levels of the Murdoch (and Fairfax) press, but they've been feeding onto the tv news as well.

    1. No it isn't, the media aren't all that any more. They are as desperate as the Libs.

    2. I agree with Azrael the Cat - Abbott's rise is painfully inevitable.

      I see your point Andrew, "the media aren't all that anymore", generational change is afoot within the entire media landscape, however I still believe Gillard will lose the next election. If she doesn’t – I will be the first to gladly ingest humble pie.

      I believe Gillard will lose, not just because of the extreme bias of the MSM, but because even though she is a prodigiously talented politician, she has proven herself to be an inept political leader. She is also obviously a woman in a position of power. Whether it is her ineptitude combined with her femaleness that is the most relevant point affecting her credibility, or whether it is her femaleness which informs her ineptitude in the eyes of the Australian pubic and MSM, is something that I shall leave for the reader to decide.

      I tend to agree with Myriam Lyons when she said on The Drum (Tuesday 31 July) that the print media still drives the media cycle here in Australia. I can’t say that I agree with Lyons without also mentioning that I believe that the print media (of which Fox News even admits that that Australia has one of the highest concentrations of media ownership in the world – and the major player is Murdoch) is still incredibly influential in Australia. If it wasn’t, why would Murdoch be holding on to The Australian – a paper that relatively few people even read? I assert that one reason why he clings to The Australian is to maintain what John Pilger calls an Australian Murdochracy. Consider the Murdoch print media as the red-neck male, whilst the shock jocks and other commentators (including think tanks) are the droolling attack dogs who mindlessly carry out their masters bidding.

      The print media isn’t powerful because they print facts, or even news. I once thought that they were powerful simply because they had the ability to bamboozle the Australian readership to the point where the average Joe wasn’t even aware that when they thought they were reading a paper populated with facts, it was actually saturated with extremely biased opinion. The print media is powerful simply because it is a PR machine. It markets a message. As Pilger said: “The day Fairfax announced it was sacking a fifth of its workforce, an executive of a PR firm whose accounts include McDonald's wrote, "I believe these evolutions will result in improved PR campaigns, with stories running across multiple platforms ... Great news for our clients."”

      I can say I believe that the print media is powerful, but then it is only manners for me to explain that I understand that no amount of belief will ever make something a fact. This is why I explained why I think the print media is still influential, yet I can also admit that it's power isn't as pervasive as it once was. Tony Abbott speaks as if every word that has ever escaped his mouth, especially as opposition leader, is a verified fact. The Right’s complete inability to ever admit that they have ever made a mistake, or might not be the party with the only “god given” right to rule, is not only the height of arrogance, petulance and pomp, it is also supremely brilliant. It is brilliant because by meandering around policy and social issues with clever word play about personal freedoms and prosperity for all, prominent right-wing figures like Abbott are able to masterfully hide the fact that the true goal of the Right is to divide humanity, over and over again, into 'winners' and 'losers' (even Phillip Blond can see that the free market has failed at what it was allegedly created to do). Thus they seek to legitimise the pre-ordained distribution of income, wealth and
      opportunity that disadvantages so many and benefits so few, simply because they made a poor choice of parents, post-code or school. The Neo-libertarian free market in action. Shhhh – that’s a secret too!

    3. Of course, Tony Abott’s Liberals deplore collaboration and co-operation. Other people are enemies, to be bested by all means or foul. This rigged competition, with its 'winners-take-all' mentality, has led to an anemic and steadily growing inequality, mass immiseration and relentless disempowerment of the little man vis-a-vis the centres of economic power. These fraternal centres are more than willing to collaborate with each other, but not with broader society. Abbott is a master of this fraudulent competition because he has the MSM on side – driven (in part) by what is published in the print media. The phrase Howard’s Battlers was almost as fraudulent and stupendous as the way in which the Right has hoodwinked so many decent and morally virtuous people into believing that the Right can actually represent the poorly paid and those in society who enjoy fewer privileges. Said decent people have fallen under a powerful spell and take the word of Abbott and his shock jock cronies, when they hear motherhood statements such as “this is in the national interest” and “this is for the common good”.

      The deception is made almost effortless when 70% of the print media is owned by one voice, and that voice is highly conservative. This leads to a PR nightmare for anyone who isn’t on the Right, and a dream-run for anyone who is. English MP Tom Watson and Independent journalist Martin Hickman’s book on the way in which politicians in the UK have bowed down before Rupert Murdoch’s wealth and power, as well detailing the incestuous relationship between his newspapers and a corrupt police force sounds like an interesting read to me. However, I doubt a work of this type could ever gain a foot-hold in Australia if a similar one was published here. The MSM would destroy it by way of character assassination and blanket denial to the point where it would never get published, or, if it were to be published, it would end up in the bargain bin sooner than Tony Abbott can utter the word “No”.

      If Tony Abbott will never be PM of Australia (ergo he will not be the next PM) one beggars the question who will be the next PM? I don’t believe it will be Gillard – she will either be evicted from the leadership beforehand, or she will lose the 2013 election. I can’t see anyone within the Liberals with the ability to subjugate Tony Abbott before the next election, so by default and elimination, I sadly predict that Abbott is destined for the lodge.

    4. I believe Gillard has never adequately explained the knifing of Rudd to the electorate, and she looked less than sympathetic or the recipient of good political fortune when she was interviewed on Four Corners. The Australian public simply never bought the explanation, nor have they forgiven or forgotten. Those who didn’t vote for her in 2010 due to the Rudd deposal will surely not vote for her in 2013 – and the list of disgruntled voters will probably be considerably larger. Perhaps the public will warm to her again if she is herself deposed by someone within her own ranks because it will be seen as comeuppance?

      Giving Kevin Rudd a highly important front-bench portfolio was an unmitigated disaster (though her hand was probably forced), and made her seem clumsy and spooked.

      Her amateurish admission that she would prefer to spend time in suburban Australian classrooms, rather than dealing with international relations, illustrated poor judgment which seemed unbecoming of a “stateswoman”.

      The way she has been unable to properly defend the widely scalded BER school hall program, when it was vastly successful (statistically) was a lost opportunity to sing her own praises.

      The way she allowed the introduction of the ETS to be staged as a lie by the opposition, whilst willingly naming the ETS a “carbon tax” was another political death-knell. Due to Abbott’s and the MSM’s relentless attack on Gillard’s honesty, she is also seen as someone who lacks substance and a moral compass. The moral compass issue becomes even more relevant when you take into account Gillard’s staunch opposition towards gay marriage, even though she is herself a non-religious person who has made the choice to remain unmarried. This is hypocritical as her example shows a person who is legally allowed to make the choice to remain unmarried, whereas if she was a lesbian woman (as Abbott’s sister is) she would not have that same choice. It seems as if her motivations are purely motivated by ambition and maintaining power at any cost.

      The suspension of live cattle trading with Indonesia based on a television program showed a lack of foresight, explanation, planning and temperament.

      The way that Gillard dealt with the respective Craig Thompson and Peter Slipper saga’s represented a level of ineptitude that misogynistic voters might conclude could have been better handled by a more decisive male leader.

      The way that Gillard out-sourced asylum policy to the Houston panel showed a lack of political courage, however it was a decision that she may be best remembered for her application of personal courage (as she may have just put a ‘cause’ before political point-scoring). The perception that Gillard fumbled her way through the asylum seeker debate when first coming to power and seeking the input of PNG etc was unflattering to say the least.

      Julia Gillard has never seemed to be 100% in control of her government. Sure, she is at the reigns, but it has felt like she has been at the reigns of a runaway coach in an old western movie – with no Jon Wayne to spring to the rescue. To these eyes, she continually seems scared of Abbott; often complaining about the opposition instead of being seen as doing. She seems to be a slave of the media cycle and those in politics who aren’t in government, instead being able to control the debate. Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception that Gillard is always chasing her own tail or cleaning up a mess, instead of leading and getting things done. As Peter Hartcher said, what would Abbott be with the Punch And Judy Show?

    5. Neither Howard or Keating would have succumbed to such elementary errors of judgment. Sure, neither of them were faced with such a negative barrage from the MSM, but that's a secondary point.

      On top of these points, I would just add that people out in suburb land seem to be completely disengaged with our polity to the point where they don’t give a toss about either party – which is the essence of feeling “politically homeless”. Such a situation can be especially worrying for the incumbents as the electorate might just be thinking “well, the other side can’t be any worse, I’ll vote for them if it means getting rid of this current lot”.

      The longer that Gillard remains in power, the worse-off the ALP will be in the long-term. The public has already decided, with a large helping hand from the MSM.

    6. There are two cases that an Opposition Leader needs to make: that the incumbents are bad and that he & his would do better. In the past fortnight Abbott has gone backwards on the first and cemented reasonable doubt over the second.

      Since Azrael's comment we have seen the government have substantial policy wins, making the case for its re-election. Your second-last point assumes that people vote out governments by mistake, or by default, which isn't the case.

      The Coalition under Abbott has not concentrated on policy which makes it unable to make the case to leverage the incumbents out. All this stuff about how Gillard has made mistakes assumes that Abbott has more credibility than he does.

      Neither Howard or Keating would have succumbed to such elementary errors of judgment. Sure, neither of them were faced with such a negative barrage from the MSM, but that's a secondary point.

      Crap: they weren't ten foot tall and bulletproof either. You can regard the MSM as vital to a government's success, or unimportant, but not both at the same time.

    7. "Your second-last point assumes that people vote out governments by mistake, or by default, which isn't the case."
      I think you may have mistook what I said.

      You can regard the MSM as vital to a government's success, or unimportant, but not both at the same time."
      I said neither, rendering your point moot.

      Yes, Gillard has has wins recently. Too little too late, although I acknowledge that a week is a long time in politics and nobody can authoritatively predict the future. Especially 12mths in advance.

    8. "All this stuff about how Gillard has made mistakes assumes that Abbott has more credibility than he does."
      Gillard has made mistakes. Clearly.

      Abbott's credibility is a separate issue entirely and I was not trying to link it to Gillard's inept leadership. Such an argument would be baseless, and quite frankly, irrational. I do think that Abbott has a credibility problem - but this is only my opinion, from someone who dislikes him profoundly.

      My supposition is that even though the populace may dislike Abbott, they dislike Gillard even more (regardless of policy platforms).

      You draw an allusion to Keating and Howard as being bulletproof. I didn't say that they were. Sure, they made mistakes. My assertion is that, by comparison, their mistakes were rarely as elementary as Gillard's.

    9. The popularity contest is only important insofar as the choice of a new government is concerned. Gillard and Abbott are probably equally unpopular, but Gllard will win the all-important contest for preferred government.

      As George Megalogenis pointed out, Keating and Howard have a patina of nostalgia that Gillard lacks.

  12. "on her hind legs" is an offensive and disrespectful allusion which befits Alan Jones not Andrew Elder

    1. Intended to refer to preparedness to fight rather than animal qualities more broadly. Good point though.

  13. There is a recent ex-PM who is working overtime to ensure Labor loses the next election. And his name isn't John Howard.

    1. I take it you're basing that speculation on Joel Fitzgibbon's recent brainfart, and the rising shrieks from the MSM. None of these are reliable sources.

    2. Imagine if all those acres of newsprint and hours and hours of air time spent discussing leadershit and R*dd over the past two years had been spent talking about pricing carbon, the NBN, the NDIS, the mining tax, plain packaging on cigarettes, pokies reform ... Abbott would have been long gone.

      Sure the media are lazy but R*dd could put an end to this right now by tellling his supporters to stop the leaks and the whiteanting. He won't though and he's going to bring the ALP down with him.