23 April 2013

Not cruising, drifting

The Coalition's policy-lazy, always-attack strategy has always been designed to cover up their lack of answers to what this country needs, and their lack of any ability to develop those answers. After three years and five months the poverty of the strategy has become apparent on a number of fronts:


Abbott has abandoned any pretense that increased school funding is desirable and insisted that the status quo is adequate, in terms of both the amount and the formulas to determine funding.

If he were ever interviewed by a journalist who does actual research, he should be asked to explain the current school funding formula. For example, because Liberal governments of four states and the NT have cut their education budgets, the amount they get from the Commonwealth for education is also reduced. The Premiers concerned would be expected to complain loud and long about how Canberra had dudded them - until the incumbents promised to change the basis on which funding is offered (per capita and transcending touchy private/public distinctions), meeting them more than half way ($2 of Commonwealth money for every $1 from the states), and giving them a net increase ($14b over five years; not $5-6.5b/year that Gonski's report promised, but ahead of where they are now). They're holding out to make Gillard look bad, especially to old-school deadline-driven journalists; but there is only so long anyone can resist a bucket of cash that big.

I think I agree with Bronwyn Hinz that both the hard work is ahead of them, and is being done - assuming I have taken the right path through her thicket of metaphors (e.g. a landmark is no magic bullet, is federalism baby or bathwater?). I want to agree with Andrew Whalan, but am not quite there yet.

As a history graduate, I definitely don't agree with Chris Pyne when he says "History is what it is". What he is proposing is the NSW curriculum that was taught to me at various state schools in the 1970s and '80s - Our Cultural Inheritance From Greece And Rome And Britain, and skating quickly past all those Aborigines who helped the explorers and got dispossessed along the way.

The idea that the curriculum doesn't contain enough about Anzac Day is rubbish. Every April of my schooldays, we had the lessons of Lone Pine and Goodbye Cobber God Bless You drummed into us, how the Poms sent us to the wrong beach and how Turkish veterans weeded the graves of Australians after the shooting was done. Even the mouthbreathers who couldn't spell their own names knew what 25 April was about. I've never been to Gallipoli but I reckon I'd know it better than the backyards of houses I've lived in. Pyne's trotting out nonsense that was patiently disproven and comprehensively rebutted when he and I were Young Liberals.
We should know the truth about it and we shouldn't allow it to colour our present and our future.
Indeed we should. Pyne went to a private school in South Australia roughly coinciding with my schooldays, and it would have been a real con on his educators' part to simply import the NSW curriculum and present it as a superior pedagogical offering to SA state/systemic schools. In the latter stages of my membership of the Liberal Party I had disagreements with a number of Liberals, including Howard and Abbott, when I said that pride in our country makes no sense without the "black armband" aspects. Blainey's whole "balance sheet" ("what balance sheet?"cry those who don't know where the phrase 'black armband' comes from) is stupid - did Bradman score enough runs to make up for Myall Creek? This was the point where my membership of the party became untenable.

The point about education is not just that it's warm and fuzzy, and even those without children acknowledge it is socially important on some level. The point about education reform (not only Gonski but also BER and the increased focus on Asia) is that it's something tangible for us all to take, and to pass onto our children, from the China boom. If we piss away this bounty on public school boards made up of people not good enough to win Liberal preselection, or giving free railway lines and dams to Twiggy Forrest, then we will hate ourselves as a nation forever.

The insistence of Abbott and Pyne that the status quo is just fine not only goes against reality, but against the culture warriors on their own side who take it as given that Australia's education system is appallingly inadequate - like, for example, Kevin Donnelly:
Dr Kevin Donnelly from the Education Standards Institute says the current curriculum downplays the impact Anzac Day and the Gallipoli legend have had on forming an Australian identity.

"Australia and our character is ignored in the history document, because it's all about diversity and difference and multiculturalism and different perspectives," he said.

"It's a very one sided, politically correct view of Australian history and I would argue we need to get back to a stronger sense of what has made Australia a unique nation."

Mr Donnelly said it was ironic Anzac Day was underplayed in classrooms at a time when increasing numbers of young people were travelling to historic battlefields in Turkey and France to commemorate the event and more children than ever were taking part in dawn services.

"Young people are wanting to affirm that sense of us being uniquely Australian and celebrating the heroic ethos, yet it is being all but ignored in schools," he said.
Which is it? If Gallipoli is being ignored in schools, why are any Australians going there at all? Is the curriculum diverse or one-sided? What a scatterbrain this man is. No wonder the Liberals are down on pointy-heads, or used to be. What dills Pyne and Abbott are to have him in the trenches with them. For all Donnelly's faults I'll give him this: he knows more about education than the putative Education Minister, who has been shadowing the role for an apprenticeship-worthy four years.

Aboriginal Affairs

Mark Roberts threatened to "cut the throat" of someone who does practical work with and for Aborigines. The article above quoting Pyne shows him doing the same to Abbott, however inadvertently, deep-sixing all of that careful positioning of Abbott as a born-again believer in helping Aborigines:
Critics say a trend towards political correctness sees history classes place undue emphasis on indigenous culture ...
All those photo ops of Abbott hammering in nails gives the impression of practical action for Aborigines - but this too is practical action, teaching Australians that Aborigines were skilled and careful custodians of this land and that much is lost with the destruction of their traditional societies. It's one thing for Pyne to be lazy about his own portfolio, but to actively undermine his leader in this fashion is astonishing. Three years of careful reframing and optics, gone.

To describe this overreach as mere departure from the songbook shows a genuine lack of understanding of Australian politics right now, a pathetic lack in someone whose job it is to convey that understanding.

Come to think of it, I can't remember of Abbott with any Aborigines other than Noel Pearson - no frolicking with little black kids, no listening to wise elders, no interactions with Aborigines his own age and pondering how different their lives must be. Do you know what sort of (non-Aboriginal) person gets photographed with Aborigines? Do-gooders. Whitlam pouring dirt into the hand of that striking stockman. Legal-aid lawyers and teachers and nurses and social workers. It's one thing for Abbott's press people to do a bit of reframing, but Liberal conservatives won't have one of their own gallivanting about with the blacks, thank you very much! They left that behind when Fred Chaney and Bob Katter bailed out of the Coalition parties.

You can bet that Abbott's support for the recognition of Aborigines in the Constitution will vanish, too. That cry from the void - no, no, no - will prove too strong. The conservatives' petty need for differentiation through reaction as a form of self-definition will overwhelm the need to reach out to others. The only Australians with a vested interest in maintaining Aboriginal dispossession are the Coalition's regional base.

The Budget, The Economy

The Coalition used to promise that they'd get the Budget back into surplus on their first go (if you believe the doomsayers, we're talking next year's budget as the first of the next term of Parliament). They used to promise that because Costello and Howard convinced everyone who doesn't pay much attention that the bigger the surplus, the better the economic manager you were, and that a deficit was a sign of economic failure. Howard had to concede that Costello was a better Treasurer than he'd been, but even that self-effacement was self-serving to reinforce surplus-is-good and to keep Costello in his place.

If you are backing away from your commitment to a surplus, and if you accept the Grattan Institute's report of wider and deeper budget issues, then you have to undergo a complete re-education process about what sound economic management is and how your offering tracks to that. For the Coalition, it's too late. They promised a surplus and now they can't deliver.

They won't even deliver a teeny, tiny tax break to small business. Small business was the Liberal base under Howard, and Abbott promised a repeat of Howard, but ... maybe all that Labor rhetoric about the very wealthy getting tax breaks and everyone else getting tax hikes has some truth to it.

People looked to the Coalition for economic management, now they'll look away. All that puddling along by Wayne Swan doesn't look so bad if it's kept us all in jobs and AAA ratings, so what are Abbott and Hockey offering to top it? Nothing.


Given that the incumbents have reopened Nauru and Manus Island, the only room for differentiation is the mean stuff - where we send desperate people to their deaths and damage our relations with Indonesia. He thinks it makes him look like a tough guy when it really makes him look like an arsehole, of which the evidence is already too much and beyond reasonable doubt. This reinforces Abbott's meanness on other fronts. A hint from the Indonesian government that Aussie tourist access to Bali might be restricted, and Abbott becomes A Big Risk just like Latham, or Hewson, or every other loser Opposition Leader really.

There is no reason why this couldn't have happened sooner. It shows why Abbott's statements about the UN Refugee Convention are invalid; that agreement masks rather than forms the basis for his decision-making, and shows why reporters who are flat out quoting him accurately are simply surplus to requirements. Governments that don't care about the law are dangerously incompetent; prospective governments that don't care about the law should be headed off, rather than praised for their marketing skill.

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(c) @GeordieGuy

My favourite aspect of this much-parodied image is the computery-style numbers on the banner. I hope there is a FTTN box installed behind that banner especially to update it as each boat comes through, and that 361 more boats come between now and September just to mess with this silly construct. It's designed to resemble a petrol bowser, a daily point of cost resentment for many, with the implication that each time the numbers click over it will burn a hole in your pocket. Perhaps Chris Bowen could set up BoatWatch to enhance his public policy accomplishments.

Howard as Governor-General

To translate from journotalk, "plays down" means an attempt to defer a true story that is inconvenient to deal with right now. Sillier journalists confuse playing-down with refutation, if not rebuttal, and even so you know how Abbott lies when he's painted into a corner. Abbott so wants to appoint Howard as Governor-General, which is the actual story in this article that was completely missed by the dopey journalist who wrote it.

Howard is popular with Liberals. Liberals seem popular at the polls. Therefore, if you're a dill you would extrapolate from that the nation wants (or wouldn't mind) John Howard OM AC as Governor-General. Abbott was wrong to focus on Howard himself, even though he loves the ceremonial stuff: Jeanette pines for Kirribilli Point, and clearly Admiralty House will suffice.

This seems like a small issue now, but smaller issues than that have borne the full weight of political arrogance and overreach, and served as pivots to public opinion.


Part of being a competent Opposition is going into election day as the underdog. The underdog doesn't get bogged down in governmental minutiae. The underdog is given he benefit of the doubt. The government is the underdog in Australian politics today; it's 1993 all over again, the very predicament Abbott has supposedly spent twenty years learning lessons from and working to avoid.

Abbott isn't the underdog who was cruelly denied office by a few flaky independents, and whose potential shines against the quotidian drudgery of the incumbents . Everything he (and his front bench) says is - finally - starting to be weighed against what might actually happen. It's one thing to say no, no, no in the face of Julia Gillard, or to adopt the mock-sympathy routine for interest groups who will be screwed by Abbott's proposals, but you can't just say no, no, no to real-life situations affecting our country and refuse to adapt. Conservatives can't pick the difference between passing fads and structural shifts, which is why they tend to get overwhelmed by 'events'.

This is more important than polls - not only does it separate the journalists from the press-release splicing drones and the insider fart-sniffers, but this is the stuff that actually changes people's voting intentions. There is no good reason why more journalists could not have done this sooner. Just at the time when the Gillard-doomed-Abbott-inevitable Narrative has become entrenched it will start to change. Most journalists will not take to this well and, frankly, should be sacked. Those who do, however, will produce the enduring journalism of the 2013 election and will point the way forward for that profession undertaking.

What now?

First, the Budget. I actually wanted to use a metaphor of Napoleon retreating from Moscow here, the man with the unstoppable momentum retreating and getting picked off by enemies and circumstances that he had once overcome easily.

This is the calm before the storm, and right now the Coalition is going nowhere. This will change; this government will stumble, and the empty vessel that is this opposition will rattle along. Even so, the fact is that the Coalition underestimates how inadequate the Howard legacy is to help them rise to the challenges of governing the nation into the future. They're winging it, they know it, but what they don't know (but do dread) is that it just won't carry them into government.


  1. Excellent read, thank you. I think the meanness will come out more and more, don't you? Sorry to pick nits, though, but there's one sentence you might revise: 'the bigger the surplus, the better the economic manager you were, and that a surplus [I think you mean 'deficit'] was a sign of economic failure. '

  2. It's going to take this country falling into a pre-industrial revolution state for the social framing around the coalition being "better at managing the economy" to change, I fear.

  3. "insider fart-sniffers". Hilarious. Great article too.

  4. Andrew, do you think you could add a reaction box titled 'reassuring'? I feel better every time I read one of your articles.

    The Coalition education policy concerns me greatly. I feel that during the Howard years identical policies led to bogans and thugs dominating events like Anzac Day and Australia Day.

  5. Dutton on Q&A last night was a perfect example (along with Pyne when he was on) of inability to change from attack to policy. Tanya Plibersek exposed him brilliantly, and I think most people would have been left wondering if he had anything to offer "closer to the election" (that old fallback won't work anymore).
    But the best thing for me though was when Plibersek heartily laughed at the questioner who trotted out the 'class war' stupidity.

  6. A great analysis of as you said at the end, why the LNP's current strategy won't carry it into Government. Coincidentally I write about it here in stronger terms (http://wp.me/p1D1R7-dk).

  7. Suddenly Joe Hockey is expressing horror that Labor wont get to surplus-'they promised!' but all the time he was saying that they wouldn't get a surplus -so how can he be surprised?
    And economists miss a huge point- economy is not just about figures- what about the intangibles? By that I mean social capital- having a health system, an aged care system , a decent education etc.

  8. It is clear to all who look below the surface that the past 3 years have been about tactics of revenge on the opposition's part. Unfortunately, one K Rudd and his band of merry plotters played right into his hands. Those two elements combined have managed to put a party with much better policy position into a severe underdog position.

    What alarms me most is the irresponsible position of many in media who have thrown all integrity and common sense out the window in favour of the 'spectacle' of a prancing pony Abbott and the leadership debacle that was magnified by media acceptance of opposition opinion as 'insider' opinion along with the whispers of the conspirators. That whole dynamic is/was ludicrous, but our illustrious scribes ran with it regardless because it made for colourful headlines.

    It will be interesting, in coming months, if the gallery journos wish to attempt to redeem themselves by becoming more impartial in their treatment of policy, or whether they will continue to dumb down and play to the periphery and seal their own demise as heavyweights of political discourse.


    1. Jennifer what gets me is, these same junos, would have to live with all the nasty policies abbott would bring with him]
      thank you Andrew, love your blog and reassurance, the people of geralton where not happy, surely his people didn't think that he spoke for all residents, or did they.

      do we see a few people starting to awake and take more notice , that this man can not be pm,

    2. what u mean is,,,U want them to win,
      libs are every where

  9. "They're holding out to make Gillard look bad, especially to old-school deadline-driven journalists; but there is only so long anyone can resist a bucket of cash that big."

    You living inside BOF's head or something? Jeez, good timing!

  10. The calculus for Labor's still dim hope is that at some point the rejection of of the ALP's fading brand will begin to be outweighed by a realisation of what Abbott represents.

    As you say, we have begun to see the signs of that irrepressible meanness this past week in the throat-cutting incident, the blanket 'NO' to Gonski, the incalculably stupid posturing in front of the boat people billboard and, now, Pyne trying to kickstart the Culture/History Wars.

    We know that Abbott wants to hit the reset button so that they can pretend 2007 never happened and Howard never was beaten. But it's not 2007 and Howard WAS beaten.

    The Coalition have two major weak points - firstly their self-delusion that the Howard nostalgia, as constantly expressed in the News Ltd papers, has any substance; secondly, their belief in the myth of their superior 'economic management'.

    It's clear to anyone with any nous that they have no idea, that Zombie Howard won't carry it for them all the way to power and that they are flaky on a broad policy front, most particularly in economic policy.

    They have nothing to offer apart from satisfying the wet dreams of the ghouls and punishers of News Ltd, the poisonous shockjocks and the coterie of nasty old men who think they run Australia.

  11. David Perth23/4/13 2:28 pm

    Good article thanks. Its an interesting point that conservatives tend to become overwhelmed before making the change. I have a corollary that ultra conservatives will defend their position to the point of stupidity. Its going on right now in WA with the billboard and the visit to 'that' landing spot. The whole "tea party" style, and as you have written above, provides plenty of reference material.

  12. They will still win, I'm afraid. They have permanently established incompetence as the Government's default position and Labor conveniently eases into the shoe to frequently to overturn the perception.

    Noone wants Gillard and Labor and that is all that counts. The positive's or otherwise of LNP are irrelevant for a great many Australian. After the election when nothing changes except the faces, the joke will be on all of us. The political process is trashed to everyones detriment and it will take another 6 years to fix at least.


    1. no-one liked Howard but they kept voting for him. They may not like Gillard but she has an identity. Abbott has none. I cannot recall people voting for non-entities. The last one they ditched was McMahon and Tony is just a nasty version of him and people know it.

  13. Abbott has his silly placard, O'Connor wants to jail children in a remoter desert hell hole again in breach of our own laws yet we are already wasting $8 billion across all areas to illegally jail innocent people.

  14. Howard's legacy INADEQUATE.

  15. Andrew
    I can only restate my admiration for you as a political commentator and I just wish we had Journalists that could be as thoughtful in how they approach and discuss politics the people of Australia would be better informed.
    And an example of how conversations are conducted was amply demonstrated on radio national PM this evening Alexander Kirk was interviewing Kim Carr about him writing a book on the Labor party and she continually asked him why he was not going to be critical of Julia Gillard and blame her for the low opinion poll numbers and he came back to her and say he was going to write why the Labor party was the best option for the young voters of today and she continually interrupted him by saying Labor was low in the polls would lose the election in September because of all the policy failures as if to follow the mantra of the Murdoch reasoning to give no credit for the good things and successful policy outcomes.
    So when you say that the press gallery insiders fart sniffers it would seem that applies to the journalists at the ABC also.

  16. There's more to the suggestion of John Howard as governor general and it's pertinent to the point about about teaching history. The Liberals want to rewrite it.

    Howard didn't just lose the 2007 election, he lost his seat - only the second prime minister to do so. If Abbott succeeds in making him GG, it will mean the last chapter of The John Howard Story will be one of national service rather than humiliating defeat.

    The fact that the Libs would even consider using one of the highest offices in the land as a tool to rehabilitate their hero goes to show just how messed up their priorities are.

    1. if Howard becomes GG he will be the last one and Gough will be vindicated.

  17. saw petrol for $1.21 today...

    1. Odd. Rupert Murdoch told Alan Jones in 2005 the the Iraq War was such a success that oil would by now, be half the price.

  18. Thanks Andrew for your thoughtful analysis. The care you take shows respect for your readers. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Tony Abbott who treats the voters of this land with scorn. He know he is incorrect, to put it mildly, to describe asylum seekers as 'illegal' . He does not care. It is obvious. He does not care because he despises those he is appealing to. He knows their vulnerabilities and does not seek to enlighten. His arguments are crude and repetitive. He squanders his privileged education: prestigious Jesuit college and Oxford by resorting to the cheap tactics of a propagandist. Has he no self-respect.? And why does he, a grown man, continue to loiter in the comforting cocoon of permanent adolescence. The desire to appoint Howard as GG is only another example of Abbott's need to please older men. He seems to be a permanent acolyte who needs the guiding hand of a mentor. When are Australians going to wake up and recognize that Tony Abbott is Peter Pan.

    1. Ive woken up ages ago...

      The next generation of libs are even more obnoxious

      Check out homocon/ipa guy on yhe s.b.c

      Always restless and chastised by staff for being arrogant

      This morning,trioli told him to relax...

      Jesus the narcissism of these types are so sad...

      Born to rule ,like Abbott have a nasty affinity towards these bogans..

      If only someone could catch him say a deragotary remark about them off the record,it would be Gold!

  19. I'd like to be reassured but I still think the Coalition will win: it's hard to see how a government that's sustained so much damage can pull off a win. But it'll be a workmanlike win, not a landslide: the Coalition will be lucky to get into the high 80s seat-wise. As a result, I've started reconciling myself to the likelihood of an Abbott Prime Ministership. Though that won't stop me reading this blog.
    The point is there's no secret Catholic-inspired right-wing agenda waiting to be rolled out. Let alone British-style self-defeating austerity for austerity's sake. But the problem runs deeper. To say the Coalition is not interested in policy gives them too much credit. Their approach is the triumph of nostalgia over thought: in particular, thought about how the world has changed since 2007. It bespeaks a fundamental arrogance.
    In that lies some hope for Labor. That arrogance won't wash with voters once the inevitable economic downturn resulting from the end of the mining boom begins - and it'll begin sooner rather than later. And when 'the chips are down', we'll realise the true value of all that culture war / values bullshit beloved of News Limited (and too many in both cases): bugger all.

    1. Indeed. The Coalition's inability to comprehend how much different the world is in 2013 is frightening. Do Australians realise this?

      Part of me thinks the election will come down to whether people vote on past performance - in which case a Coalition victory to punish Labor's civil war shambles - or the challenges Australia faces in the future - in which case Labor will win.

    2. wait until Aug / Sept when it is drummed into people they will have a piddling slow NBN under Abbott.

  20. This statement, from Tony Abbott himself, sums up to a tee what to expect from the Coalition if they are elected in September:

    "There are lots of promises that the current Government will make going into the election that the Coalition simply won't match".

    ...don't say you weren't warned.

  21. Ultra conservative going to the extreme and getting silly

    Marriage equality anyone!!

    Bestiality akin to gay couples marrying

    Piers Akerman and his embarrassing rants on this!!

    Ian Hanke on the a.b.c .

    Same old crap

    Blah blah blah...


  22. What is it with the Libs and the blue ties? I recognize the colour connection but Why? Tony Abbott seems to have settled on cerulean, the type of lurid shade associated with look-at-me school uniforms. Amateur deconstruction can only deduce that their aim is to present as a unified team. Vote I for the blue team. We are sober, restrained, calming and conservative, we are not Green and heaven forbid we are not enraging Red. What about the ladies? Is Sophie in sky blue? I must take more notice.

  23. John Howard part 2....


    Thats the coalition the polity will have!

    Furthermore,look at the tie color of Obamas sartorial excellence in presidential suits and that of his lovely wife
    Namely the recent Vogue cover of Ms Obama

    Perfect in every political sense.

  24. I suspect a lot of the conventional wisdom about Abbott's cred in "Aboriginal Affairs" is down to it being the one group he hasn't downright insulted or dismissed.... apart from the occasional "authentic Aboriginal" remark.