05 April 2014

I did but see him passing by

It was hardly the surprise that the press gallery made it out to be that Tony Abbott would reinstitute knighthoods and dameships.

John Howard deferred to nobody as a monarchist but was paranoid about looking complacent and entitled. Reinstituting those titles looked like more trouble than it was worth politically, and it would have added to the ferocious pressure that all governments face from status-seekers grasping for a gong. Consider certain people from that era who might have been thus ennobled under Howard:
  • Jeff Kennett
  • John Elliott
  • Dick Warburton
  • David Murray
  • Colin Barnett (in retirement mode)
  • Ziggy Switkowski
  • Alan Jones
  • Jocelyn Newman
  • (add your own)
In forming that list I have used the Liberal/NewsLtd convention of naming one woman, almost as an afterthought, so that I can shake a pasty fist at those of you who'd accuse me of being sexist.

The former director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy would have been less convincing at eschewing those titles. Abbott has not learnt the hard lessons about politics that Howard had before entering the Lodge.

Samantha Maiden should have been awake to this rather than just taking dictation and letting Flint and Downer run interference. This, along with the fiasco where News hid Maiden's story for a few days, made Maiden look like a dupe and showed that neither she nor those she quoted can be relied upon for any useful opinion on anything. Insofar as it matters, both Lenore Taylor and poor Mark Kenny cemented their reputations for being able to predict things after they happen rather than beforehand; a quality valued highly within the press gallery and almost entirely worthless beyond it.

The market for Holden cars, dire and declining though might be, is far greater than that for conventional press gallery journalism.

When you add this to the fact that Abbott made his announcement on a day when Arthur Sinodinos made a monkey of everyone who thought he was a copper-bottomed Canberra insider, and George Pell was dumping on everybody who'd protected him (except Abbott) before his departure for Rome, the entire press gallery and those who employ them should not have been diverted to the extent that they were. PR dollies might have marvelled at Abbott's ability to change the narrative, but all it did was further reinforce the idea that those who make news decisions within the Australian media are idiots - and idiots who come to the samey-same idiotic conclusions.

Coverage of recent events involving the British royal family are notable for their utter reliance on what was announced by Abbott's media wranglers, with no analysis independent of that as to what they might mean.

Abbott has form on treacly fawning over the royals, as though they were his own parents (without the adult acknowledgement of their foibles and the context of whether they mean well), yet something more and better in an ill-defined way. Two recent encounters with the royals were notable for their absence of this, however.

The first was his encounter with Prince Charles. Note this piece, the photo, and the story beneath it which doesn't relate to it at all. A typical Abbott-royals piece would go on about Our Next King, How Awfully Gracious It Is To Meet You Your Royal Highness, etc. There was none of that.

Prince Charles is a leading campaigner for limiting climate change as far as possible, and he has been increasingly vocal against climate change scepticism/denialism. In his meeting with Abbott in Colombo it is impossible to believe that the prince wouldn't have given Abbott a stern talking-to about his antics in opposition and his proposals in government, particularly with regard to the environment. Abbott's beliefs for the monarchy and against meaningful climate action would have collided at that meeting. Environmentalists should have been awake to that. Because Abbott's media wranglers put out no statement to that effect, journalists simply assumed that the photo op was the story and went off on other, easier story lines.

Let us have no nonsense that Abbott was trying to protect the Prince from publicity, or that what's said behind closed doors stays there. Charles is far more media savvy than Abbott is; if he thought he could get his way by drops and backdoor briefings and what have you, he would run rings around Abbott and all of his media people.

"Difficult things happen" is a slightly more couth version of "shit happens", and Abbott is siding with the government and its desire for control rather than Sri Lanka's people and their need to be free of repression. Be it on his head, and let him have no room to claim, as he will, that "I had no idea it was like that, and if I had known ...". Whether they are in a prison in Sri Lanka, Manus Island or anywhere else would appear to mean that there is no way these people can hope for any station, as it were, above the one they seem to occupy. Libertarians who welcome this government's policies on, say, a fruit cannery or bigotry protection should pay more attention to basic human freedoms than they do.

The second incident involving the royals involved putting Prince Harry at the centre of last year's International Fleet Review in Sydney Harbour. Again, no treacle; it would have been demeaning for Abbott to be seen to be bowing to such a young man (even though he would have done so off-camera). Abbott's media people foisted Margie-and-the-girls onto the Prince, reminding me of that part of the Cinderella fable where the prince has to go around wedging unsuitable feet into his glass slipper and trying to be polite about it.

Good journalists are sceptical of set-piece displays. Australian journalists who cover politics are selected for their propensity to be easily and thoroughly gulled, and their conviction that they represent us in the process.

Prince Harry as the focus of that exercise can be understood in light of this. The UK government, notwithstanding its declining military and economic capabilities, wants to project itself as a global power. Prince Harry is a commissioned officer (and a junior one) in the British army; the commander-in-chief of the Australian armed forces is the Governor-General (whom Abbott, in his ACM days, said was the true head of state rather than the Queen).

The Australian commander-in-chief/head of state was obviated in a symbolic show of power and political strength by someone who was then third in line to the British throne, someone with no more connection to this country than any other Pommy blow-in. The government which Abbott leads made that decision, which in turn will influence perceptions and outcomes about how we are governed. We squibbed an opportunity to position ourselves in our region in order to prop up another government in a country that is also unclear about what its real role and capacity is. At least the weather was nice. #GloriousSydney

Note how Peter Hartcher dances around the question of whether or not Abbott is a stone-cold liar, in a way that he never did with Julia Gillard. By this point in Gillard's Prime Ministership most people accepted her in the job, while the press gallery as one was committed to sneering her out of office. It took them years and they lost a lot of their employers' audience on the way, but they did it! What triumphs lie ahead of the press gallery now? Back to the daily grind of spoon-fed stories and regurgitated pap for the audience, it seems.

Reading between the lines of Hartcher's article, it appears Abbott has pre-empted the Palace in the hope they won't embarrass him. He would not want to do that too often.

There have been many articles claiming that bringing back knighthoods is the moment where people laugh at Abbott and stop taking him seriously. Regular readers of this blog know I'm a sucker for Abbott-is-finished narratives. It's certainly true that mocking Abbott (and Bronwyn Bishop) did them more damage than years of angry rants would or could. What will do for Abbott is that after he abolishes the carbon price and mining tax, nobody's bills will go down and nobody's job will be safer, and when the stunts of Textor and Credlin fail they will blame the stunt-man and not the stunts. Then it will be over for The Situation - but not now.

Conservatives are people who cannot distinguish between an emerging trend and a passing fad, and so they stand against them all assuming they are the latter. Australians elect conservative governments from time to time to test which new ideas have a future, which progressives see as flinching and shirking responsibility. Australians shouldn't have to choose between, say, the Great Barrier Reef and Queen's Counsels, but if that's the choice then no amount of culture-war will turn a ground-shifting long-term trend into a fragile fad.

Australia's most avowedly royalist Prime Minister likes the idea of the royal family (unearned privilege) more than the practice (being advised, counselled, and warned). The royals aren't nearly as loyal to him as he has been to them. Royals play a long game; politicians, royalist or not, talk a long game but play it short. Abbott might think of the royals as a rock to base his political and personal identity upon, but they aren't.

Knighthoods and dameships confer no dignity but turn real, imperfect people into Gilbert and Sullivan characters. This much is clear: Australians like royalty so long as they stay remote and don't try to ennoble that which can't really be ennobled. Abbott's invocation of royalty looks dodgy. It is dodgy, and if the royals can outwit those who would do them down they can outwit those who would puff them up, and hitch a ride.

Abbott tried to position himself as the long-term, ground-shifting answer to whatever the problems were over Labor's term. It worked for many, but the tentative reception he got before, on, and since last September has shown him to be a passing fad. When they do the culture-war stuff it looks like the Coalition are out for a good time, not a long time; particularly when Prince Charles won't play 'the royal game' to the extent that, say, David Flint does. There's nothing ennobling about being out for a good time, not a long time. Abbott has built his house upon the sand, not the rock. Given the short timeframes involved it is doubtful that the Liberals will forgive this conflicted man, nor themselves for betting their party, and their future, upon him and his hollow baubles.


  1. I agree with all you say Andrew
    but its hard one to comment on

    for me any way,, as all this silly stuff belong s in the past,

    I suppose where abbott sits.

    reminds me of some the story book s that I read as child in the 50s

    another changing mood ive noticed is the refugee acceptance I do hope I am right with this one.

    but it us up to us to be in front of msm on the net and I see and encourage change hope its just not the people on my time line.

    I prefer not to read the comments of msm junos and only read them when its news,

    The on line Junos are in front in thought is it that they actually read the thoughts of people on twitter, and face book

  2. A fine analysis as usual and discussed with a higher degree of depth and lucidity than I could ever do. You point out Prince Charles is a staunch defender of the environment. Now I am not sure but isn't the case of the rest of the developed world along with technological change leaving the Abbott govt far behind? I would really like to hear your thoughts on this issue. Clean energy industries seem to be gaining critical mass in cars, distributed energy and energy storage. Surely this must have some implications for a govt that holds the environment in contempt.

  3. The "teeth-grinding" stupidity of our MSM. journalists and their duplicity in joining the group-think narrow-eyed sneer that both missed the misogyny speech and now has elevated the "Abbott is loyal to his mates" theme, demonstrates that cognitive dissonance plays a central role in teaching journalism 101. !
    Maturity, however, ought to cancel-out such childish beliefs in fairy tales and LNP. press releases...because of the simplicity of minds behind the simplicity of MSM. articles, I doubt that much sympathy will be given to those owners of the current swathe of chunderers that call themselves "respectable/informed journalists".
    Tar and feathers all 'round, I say!

  4. Love your words Andrew.

    But ...

    How are they going to get rid of Abbott is the polls go paddling in Antarctica?

    They will have to drag him out by his Windsor knot and how will they explain it to the peepul?

  5. Correction - if the polls ....

    Thanks too for the Jane Gilmore link which I have just read. That quote from Battlelines about feels being more important to a conservative than reasoned argument is truly astounding and revealing.

  6. Writing in newmatilda.com on the 9th June 2010 Andrew Elder told us:

    Abbott Is Not PM Material
    Some Liberals are going to great lengths to ignore Tony Abbott's lack of leadership credentials, writes Andrew Elder, but they won't be able to hide the problem forever

    Mr Elder then slaps journalists Lenore Taylor, Mark Kenny, Samantha Maiden and Peter Hartcher for an unprofessional application of their craft. It would seem that Mr Elder still has the ‘L’ plates on and is capable of the same sloppy journalism given his wild prediction in 2010.

    The ABS predicts that on April the 2nd 2014 at 06:17:20 PM (Canberra time) the projected resident population of Australia will be 23,441,603 souls. Are we to believe that 23,441,599 good-natured Australians will wear a rictus of despair as 4 (yes, count them, that’s FOUR) of their fellow citizens are made a knight or dame? All those hopes, dreams and expectations frustrated as elevation into the ranks of the aristocracy once again slip by.

    It’s hard to weigh up the environment campaigning credentials of Prince Charles. Is he to be taken seriously? It was Prince Charles who said he wanted to be Camilla’s tampon. Should we sit up and listen intently to one of gaia’s foot-soldiers who is also a part-time tampon? That’s a bit like being lectured about married life by Pell.


    1. I'm not a press gallery journalist, never have been. There's your first category error.

      Abbott isn't PM material, and the fact that he made it to the job is another error. Your bit about the facial expressions of people is stupid. If it's hard to weigh up competing ideas, and you have to resort to making things up, perhaps commentary just isn't for you.

    2. 'Rictus of despair!' not likely Karbonesa.

      I am bent double laughing at our ludicrous leader.

      Andrew is on the money. Abbott does not have what it takes. Never has. Never will.

      The only good thing to come out of the knights and dames nonsense was the opportunity to see Prof David Flint swooning about his Sovereign.

    3. Will Queen Elizabeth 11, who renownedly has little patience for any who doubt that she is indeed "Her Majesty", accept Abbott's famous dictum, 'It is better to seek forgiveness than to ask permission' over his apparent jumping the gun when ennobling Quentin and Pete in the monarch's name?

      I very much doubt it, if, as seems likely he has taken her name, her role, her responsibility, and her right to raise her subjects' social rank through a semi-mystical concept of nobility as the 'gift' of an anointed monarch, in vain.

      In short, he's abused precisely what he claimed to be acting within - the special and direct relationship between an Australian Prime Minister and the monarch of England.

      Whatever one might think of the House of Windsor providing Australia with a Head of State, the actions of this Head of Orstrayleean Gumnint appear at the very least to be... demeaning of both parties, and by extent, each 'Dame' and 'Knight' so deemed, and by trickling down callow dismissiveness, every award an Australian receives from Her Majesty's current most distinctly ridiculous gumnint.

      If Abbott really did rush in without the Royal imprimatur to make knights and dames, then there is the possibility of real constitutional disaster here.

      Australian laws, post legislation, still have to be signed into law by the Queen's representative, her in loco monarchis as it were, the Governor General. They aren't law without the Royal Assent.

      If Abbott's taken this necessity for granted, that the Queen's acceptance after the 'facts' can be assured just because a Prime Minister has said she gave it, and she actually hasn't in real terms of charters signed and nominations ratified in her full knowledge, then Abbott has just made the monarchy redundant.

      Or ridiculous and irrelevant in his 'real world'. Which leaves Australia where? If the essential ratification of all our laws is considered a mere rubbertstamp by our Head of Government?

      The following is from Wikipedia, so I'm in danger of doing a Greg Hunt, but it makes clear how the British monarch is the final arbiter of this country's laws.

      "All laws in Australia, except in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislative Assembly, are enacted only with the viceroy's granting of Royal Assent, done by the governor-general or relevant governor, with the Great Seal of Australia or the appropriate state seal, while territorial legislatures, unlike their state counterparts, are subject to the oversight of the government of Australia. The governor-general may reserve a bill "for the Queen's pleasure"; that is withhold his consent to the bill and present it to the sovereign for her personal decision. Under the constitution, the sovereign also has the power to disallow a bill within one year of the Governor-General having granted Royal Assent."


      Head of Government, Prime Minister or not, bypass the required procedures of engagement with the monarch and your enactments have no legitimacy.

      If Abbott has done this, not only aren't his new knight and dame legitimate titleholders, he has ignored and thus reduced to the appearance of irrelevance the cornerstone of Australia as a constitutional monarchy.

      The supposed dyed-in-the-wool monarchist Abbott may well have just set in train the dissolution of Australia as it has been since 1901. And all because he lacks control, commonsense, and respect.

      Perhaps because the Queen is female?

  7. Kabonesa has provided a fine example of the Abbott belief that a true conservative puts instincts and feelings before reasoned argument.

    As I wrote above, that comment selected by Jane Gilmore in her piece for which you provided a link, is an absolute zinger.

  8. The other problem is that Labor continue to shoot themselves in the foot, crotch and throat. I've given up on the party that can preselect Joe Bullock and I'm proud to say that I played my part in getting Scott Ludlam reelected. Unfortunately the Palmer Raving Loony Party also picked up a seat, but Clive's loopy enough to give Sir Toady Abbott and his crew merry hell over the next few years so there is some consolation.

    I'll be interested to get your take on the WA Senate re-run in days to come. Julie Bishop has hit the denial button, I can only hope that Labor does some serious soul-searching...but I'm not expecting it.

    1. Don't underestimate Palmer. The press have written him off as a loony, but why do you unthinkingly believe what they report, after reading Andrew's blog? In my opinion (as opposed to journalisty and just as well researched opinon, although my opinion has no agenda, hidden or otherwise) he doesn't seem to take himself too seriously, a trait of someone who isn't a loony. Whatever Palmer may be, IMHO he's a far better alternative for conservative voters than the arsehats of the Liberal party. Frankly, I'd rather have PUP as a major party than the Liberals, LNP or whatever they call themselves.

  9. I wonder which of the Press Gallery Preciouses trolls anonymously as Kabonesa. That is a bit like being lectured about press freedom by Rupert.

  10. It seems the Libs are looking to the old country for inspiration again. I noticed Michaelia Cash and Julie Bishop were wearing a version of those distinctive party rosettes that British MPs wear on election night.

  11. An excellent analysis as always, Andrew. Thanks.

    That Gilmore piece in "The King's Tribune" you linked to is a cracker. I loved this:

    "Every time he speaks in public his brain is playing Russian roulette with his mouth."

  12. VoterBentleigh9/4/14 12:39 am

    At our household, we think Tony Abbott is an opportunist who seeks a destiny of power and glory and he will seize any opportunity which allows him to fulfill this destiny. If he can climb further via someone ("mentor") who will help him advance, he will; if he has to "sell his arse", he will; if he has to undermine the very values he espouses, he will. He is not really an athlete; he just aspires to look like one, because, for him, success comes purely through competitive triumph. The priesthood in the Catholic Church could have led him to the authoritarian leadership role of power and eventual glory. But he was hampered because he was not receiving the results he needed, so he dropped out. Journalism provided another means to authority and power and glory, but he didn't succeed there either. This explains why he is likely to do anything because he just takes whatever opportunity he can to achieve the power and the glory. He has no ambivalence of emotions or feelings; he only says differing things, because he is an opportunist and so says what will benefit him in the current circumstances of the moment. But he has one goal and one goal only. Let's hope he is a passing craze or otherwise we are in deep trouble.

    1. Voter of B - in our household half of us believe what you have written above and the other half either do not care or else think TA is either doing a good job.

      It makes for interesting discussions/arguments/bloody warfare fought with frying pans and broomsticks.

      Needless to say I share your views. Abbott is the centre of his universe. He is committed to winning. 'Whatever it takes', he told Tony Windsor. He will do anything or say anything to win.

      How will he deal with the new Senate? Whatever it takes.

      It must kill him though that he is PM of a backwater when he could be hobnobbing with the Queen in London. If only his father had stayed there! He could have been the British PM.

    2. Agree. Just watch him on the international stage when the cameras are about; like a lizard, licking his lips, flicking his eyes around him, 'walking' (I use the term loosely) like an iguana. And then when he shakes hands, he grabs the hand and pulls it toward his body, head turning as he smirks at the camera. This screams 'I want to be (seen to be) in control.'

      Sorry, but there's very little about the man that I don't find offensive.

  13. Watching The Drum...curious to see the lovely Australian media advisor chastising our new human rights commissioner appearing with The
    Chaser boys.

    It's quite amusing to watch especially as he used Chris Kennys court case to speak against him.

    Disrespectful she said to our Timmy on air ....he sat stunned with those rabbit in the headlights look one expects from being caught doing a inappropriate stunt!

    Some men haven't left student politics and never will sadly......