16 June 2015

The bomber will always get through

I think it is well also for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed, whatever people may tell him. The bomber will always get through, and it is very easy to understand that ...

- Stanley Baldwin, former UK Prime Minister, addressing the House of Commons on 10 November 1932 - thanks to Brett Holman
Baldwin was talking about the prospect of air warfare, developed initially in what we know now as the First World War and developed to a greater and much more deadly extent in the Second (Holman's blog is very good on the British prewar dread of bombing from the air, as WG Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction is on the German experience of it). He could have been talking about today's climate of fear that is throwing away important civil liberties with no real increase in safety.

Tony Abbott has staked the survival of his government on a game of chicken with the Labor Party, according to recent articles by Laura Tingle, Lenore Taylor, and others. There are two problems with this.

First, Labor seem up for such a game, which puts them into their traditional position of being Almost the Liberal Party - i.e. a permanent opposition, rather than an alternative government.

Second, the game depends utterly upon there being no actual terrorist incidents - something that no amount of bipartisanship can guarantee.

When Man Haron Monis took hostages in Martin Place last December, Abbott acted the statesman and denied it was a terrorist incident. Since then he has, to his discredit, insinuated it into the ranks of terrorist incidents. He has increased funding to the AFP and other agencies for "national security theatre" activities rather than measures that directly address terrorism and the motivations behind it.

When the US was attacked on 11 September 2001 it punctured the idea that what the US calls its 'defense' forces do not actually defend the country, and some people never got over it. The same would happen here: all that talk about sacrificing civil liberties for safety and losing both, all the talk about submarines and F-35s, all that pales in the face of a terrorist attack against Australia and Australians. A conservative government can't afford to risk such unconcern for public order and safety, and is foolish to place it all on a game of chance with their fellow former political staffers.

The entire premise behind Abbott's fear campaign is that it people are grateful when the government steps up and takes charge. Nobody is assuaged or comforted when Tony Abbott steps up and takes charge.

Evelyn Waugh (who would have agreed with Abbott on many aspects of general outlook) once said of a fellow writer that his treatment of the English language was like watching a Sevres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee. Watching Abbott in charge of the government, having him speak on anniversaries for Anzac or Magna Carta, the economy or anything important really induces similar queasiness.

This goes to policy areas unrelated to "national security theatre", too.

The peer-review systems for managing academic and artistic grants are imperfect, but almost every alternative to it is worse. Christopher Pyne has not made the case that he has greater wisdom on education and research than those with established reputations in those fields. George Brandis has not established himself as much of an aesthete outside Liberal circles in Canberra. They are drawing on an authority that they simply do not have.

Senator Mitch Fifield is the minister responsible for realising what used to be the National Disability Insurance Scheme. People familiar with that work praise Fifield's commitment and industry - but he will not get the credit he deserves because he is a minister in the Abbott government. His achievements are met with relief that he hasn't yet botched or slashed it, as though he were defusing a bomb rather than building something of lasting value. To give Fifield the credit he is due would require a broad acceptance of this government that nowhere exists outside the studios of shock-jocks and party headquarters. Liberals still hope there might be some circumstances so dire that Abbott might be seen as reassuring.

The idea that Abbott can make up for policy failings elsewhere in government with the lights-and-greasepaint of "national security theatre" isn't just 'flawed', as they say in Canberra: it's crap. It doesn't play to a strength. It doesn't compensate for his weaknesses, it emphasises them.

Mike Baird knew that there is no political capital in disasters. John Brumby took charge of the 2009 Victorian fires, so what? Anna Bligh reaped nothing from the Queensland floods of 2011. Baird did what a real leader does: praise the emergency services and get out of their way, then praise the post-recovery volunteer organisations and get out of their way, too. Baird's popularity stemmed directly from that humility in public and support in private.

Abbott and the dopey crew surrounding him think there's value in inserting their guy into genuinely tough situations, like an action hero cavorting in front of a green screen within a film studio. There's no helping him, or them, get over it. There's no way the press gallery will snap out of it either. They can all be shown up, and they probably will; and once again we will all pay the price of a bad government foisted upon us by misleading, disinformative, unchallenging work from the press gallery.


  1. It's true Fifield is honest and industrious when it comes to the NDIS. Any progress on that front will largely be due to State Governments seeing the benefits of the Scheme (eg. NSW introducing the full scheme into the Blue Mountains) and no thanks to Abbott and Co.

  2. Andrew...

    Watch The Project with Waleed Aly..

    He's doing the job for them.

    Despite the shallow nature of the show and it's audience...you need more people like him in our media


  3. Wooo war nerd reference

  4. Hi Andrew

    While I normally agree with your analysis, I can't see that the two problems with Abbott's security strategy are problems. The first one (Labor not having an independent policy) is bad for anyone who is not an Abbott supporter, but with the second one if there is a terrorist incident Abbott can simply say 'I told you so' and double down, like Howard did after the Bali Bombing.
    Abbott seems to be following a well-worn path, and unfortunately there don't seem to be too many obstacles in his way at the moment.

  5. It's all very disspiriting, isn't it? As bad as Abbott and co are, the alternative is a gormless and convictionless Bill Shorten and the ALP. I suspect the public look at Abbott as a joke and an object of disdain. Then they look at Shorten and see someone who is completely devoid of any semblance of self. I think Average Joe takes a look at the ALP and says "they'd be just as bad as the current mob, but they'd spend more money, go into more debt and let the boats flow. I think Tony is the lesser of two dud choices". Game over. What a sad place our country has become.

  6. And still, he'll probably be re-elected.

  7. While I agree with you Andrew that the nation does not feel secure from terrorism under Abbott, many people seem to be impressed by all the tough talk. Chests are puffed out. You should bear in mind that I am often wrong.

    Still I think Abbott cranks up the terror machine very adeptly. Our own wizard of Oz. He won't reap a bountiful harvest of votes but he will garner enough support. He is winnowing votes.

    I suspect an election will be called in the near future. The media has turned the fire hose on Shorten. He looks bedraggled. The media continues to accept every statement made by Abbott as something worthy of consideration.

    And so it goes on and on and on and on.

    Best wishes Andrew. You provide a bright spot.

  8. As a spasmodic poster, even more so recently with my version of Bristow's Great Tea Trolley Disaster and my computer.

    I am a little surprised that the post has drawn no comments. Perhaps there are too many like me who tire of of bashing the head against a brick wall. For we always seem to be drawn back to the same points: won't somebody, anybody, break ranks in the media and call it for the mess it is.

    Laura deserves a bouquet for at last calling it, but she is tucked away in the AFR and barely noticed in mainstream print, on radio or TV. Lenore and Bongo break out occasionally, but others (them included) are confined to online reporting. As Mr Denmore has said, the lack of true reporting would never be tolerated in financial journalism. Why is it tolerated in public affairs when in a democracy the assumption is that voters will make an informed decision?

    I've ignored News Ltd as being beneath contempt. But if we are to accept the hysterical chorus regarding Mallah and Q & A, and the ABC ... it has to be concluded that Australian political and media figures are still terrified of Murdoch. I'm not sure why, with print readership and credibility in decline, but there you are. Perhaps it's because Day TV and radio still rely on lifting stories from the tabloids, rather than pay for news staff.

    We seem to be drifting much too close to fascism for my comfort. Not enough are prepared to stand up to this hysterical nonsense. We need to find a Dorothy, prepared to look beyond the Wizard's fearful curtain.

  9. http://www.crikey.com.au/2015/06/26/can-robots-do-journalists-jobs-better-than-we-can/
    Andrew, in all your analysis have you ever considered the possibility that maybe Mark Kenny and Latika Bourke are actually robots in disguise??! That perhaps they aren't the completely redundant media-release drones you suggest they are, but are actually pioneers in this exciting new field??!

  10. Your favorite gal Ms Mirabella has won preselection Andrew
    I feel sorry for her really after reading your entry about her on this blog

    God help The Liberal Party.

    All my Greek friends say she's the worst example of The Greek diaspora and are embarrassed by her.


  11. to prove your point, Tim Wilson on Q and A was surreal to the extreme..

    Dopey...his astounding hypocrisy was exposed for everyone to see!

    Hilarious and he got a bit bratty with the host as per usual when he didn't get his way..

  12. Mark "Chopper" Read has appeared in News Corp publications numerous times and is a convicted criminal

    Astounding Hypocricy