I come to praise Caesar not to bury him

During the ‘choppergate’ saga, many in the media, including many who normally support Abbott, began turning against him. There were reports that inside the Liberal Party questions were again being raised about his leadership, about his political judgment, which could lead to another leadership challenge in the not too distant future. But has he really changed from the man they elected (by one vote)? If they loved him then, they need to love him now — in these apparently hard times, he needs their love more than ever.

You, the Liberal Party, elected him because he was a fighter (some would say a street-fighter) and he was aggressive. He took the political war right up to Labor, to Rudd, then Gillard, and Rudd again, and he won on every occasion. All right, you may have quietly disagreed with some of his tactics but, hey, they worked! He was the leader and he led you successfully.

Rudd abandoned ‘the great moral challenge’ of our time because your Tony refused to play ball over the ETS. You saw how devastating that was to Rudd in the polls. And Labor saw it too, leading to the Labor coup by Gillard that was to haunt her and them for the rest of the term and the next — Tony had helped achieve a double whammy. Remember you almost won that 2010 election: it was only National turncoats who gave Gillard government.

He knew that the Labor government would hang itself. All it needed was that the public was clearly able to see its policies for what they were. And he did that by opposing everything they tried. He knew that he could not cloud the issues by offering support for any Labor policy, that everything Labor did had to be seen as theirs alone. Even if some policies were for the benefit of the nation, they could always be returned to, in a Liberal form, once you had government. It was more important that the voters did not have their minds cluttered by seeing you support some proposals but not others. Tony knew, even if some of you did not, that Labor had to be left totally exposed without any hint of support from you.

Your Tony attacked Gillard at every opportunity. Just recall how successful he was in changing the public perception of her carbon scheme. She had promised that her government would take action on climate change and carbon emissions but remember how Tony made the public focus on her words that ‘there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead’. It was a price on carbon emissions, fixed by government in the short term, until it transformed to a market mechanism. A market mechanism fits your market philosophy, but you supported Tony because he had mesmerised the voters and had them believing it was a tax. Not once did he waver: a tax is a tax is a tax! He even had Gillard eventually concede it was at least like a tax. The more he said it the more the people believed him. Oh how you thought it was so wonderful to watch! Here was a real leader!

He turned the flow of refugees into a simple three-word slogan that the simple voters could understand — ‘stop the boats’. The voters didn’t want long complicated discussions about why these people had become refugees, or an explanation of the UNHCR and Australia’s obligations, and Tony knew that. He was the one who understood what the voters wanted and he gave it to them in terms they could understand.

Tony was so successful Labor even went back to Rudd but it made no difference. Tony carried you to a comprehensive victory at the election and he was the man.

With Joe Hockey as his treasurer, they were prepared to bring major market reforms to the forefront, reforms that would boost the private sector and reduce the role of the ‘socialist welfare state’. A lot of people who had become too reliant on the welfare state, and were not willing to take responsibility for themselves, opposed the reforms. But the real opponent was the Senate. Too many crazy independents had been elected. Just think, without them, you would have had the market and welfare reforms you so want.

What was so wrong with the GP co-payment? It was just good market economics. And you know that that is your aim, to introduce market mechanisms across the economy including into those terrible socialist public services that make people think the government will provide everything they need instead of looking to the markets and buying services from honest, hard-working businessmen. Many of the other measures were there to ensure that those lazily relying on socialist welfare, like the unemployed and aged pensioners, took more responsibility for themselves. If the reforms had been successful, they would have begun the transformation of Australia into a market utopia, just as you desire. If they had been successful, you would have praised him to the heavens: it was the Senate, not Tony, who undid his good intentions.

Tony and Joe backtracked at the second budget but you must see that as part of the plan. Every government knows that, having only three years between elections, major reforms must be made in the first year. Even if people don’t always like them, they then have two years to grow accustomed to them, see their benefit and understand that their leader has led. Attempting to re-introduce them would not have left enough time for them to be accepted and would have damaged your chances at the next election. This way the next election is winnable and the reforms can then return to centre stage where they belong. So, you know in your hearts, the change indicates clever strategic thinking, not a defeat.

Tony has been blamed for breaking promises but he is a leader and a leader has to respond to circumstances — if he doesn’t he is not doing his job. Circumstances before an election are different to the circumstances afterwards: every good leader knows that. If he made a promise in the circumstances before an election, there is no reason to keep that promise in the changed circumstances after the election: ipso facto he is a good leader. People are slowly coming to realise that is the case and no longer expect leaders to keep the vague promises they made in one set of circumstances when placed in another. Tony can continue to teach the electorate that lesson by continuing to respond to each daily set of events and to each audience he talks to. The leader in government understands best what the circumstances are and must be free to respond to them. It takes a great mind to recognise each of those circumstances and such is your leader.

Some of you have criticised Tony for his ‘captain’s picks’ but he is your captain. Why can’t a captain actually lead and make a leader’s decisions, and respond, as I said, to circumstances? That is why you elected him. Some of you claim that his ‘captain’s picks’ have indicated poor political judgment but take a look at a few of them.

One of the first was the paid parental leave scheme. Don’t forget that was a vote winner. It helped win over female voters when, previously, Tony had had a macho image as a surfer, cyclist, fire fighter and former pugilist. While his macho image had gone over well with the male voters, he knew he had to show his feminine side. He even appealed to Labor voters by suggesting that it would be funded by a tax on large corporations — Labor voters love that sort of thing. It wasn’t his fault that when you gained the government benches you discovered that Labor had left a budgetary mess. He had warned the people of the ‘debt and deficit disaster’ but couldn’t know himself how bad it actually was until Joe showed him the books.

He granted an Australian knighthood to Prince Phillip and that was derided but it is a logical decision when you think about it, which you should have realised and supported. The Queen is ‘Queen of Australia’ — and the other side should remember that it was Whitlam who made her so. Phillip may already have had all sorts of titles from all over the place but he didn’t have an Australian title. If his wife has the title of Queen of Australia, isn’t it only logical that Phillip should also have an Australian title? So, it may have been a captain’s pick but it was one that only the captain had the insight to understand why it was logically necessary.

People put him down for supporting Bronwyn Bishop over her travel entitlements when, in fact, he was doing nothing more than displaying loyalty to his team — as a good captain should. If he had abandoned her in the first 24 hours, you would have attacked him for being disloyal to his colleagues, for reacting to media pressure instead of leading. He chose to lead and display loyalty until it became obvious that Bishop had not just the helicopter ride to answer for. Surely you should respect and praise such loyalty to the team!

Yes, your Tony has displayed the leadership you need: able to tell the minds of the voters even before they know it themselves; able to read each set of circumstances that come to him each day; able to develop strategies for the future that others cannot see; loyal to a fault; and, most importantly, able to reduce Labor to a simpering morass when given half an opportunity.

Yes, Liberal party, Tony is the man to lead you into the next election. You should tell your friends in the media to stop criticising him and instead point out the vision his decisions have displayed, a vision that lesser mortals cannot understand.

And you from the Left, you should also support and praise Abbott for his courageous leadership in the face of adversity; point to how successful he has been; how he understands the real mind of the voters; how he does have a vision for the future that the Liberals need and must retain.

At least then, we can guarantee a Labor victory at the next election.

What do you think?

About Ken

We told you Abbott would be a dud PM – why are you surprised?

These last few days have thrown up something extraordinary: journalists from across the media spectrum, from Murdoch tabloids to the balanced outlets and the Fifth Estate, are seriously questioning our PM’s capacity to govern, and his suitability for such high office. Tellingly, they express not just their own opinions, their own appraisals, but anonymously quote LNP colleagues whom they report are increasingly despairing of Abbott’s behaviour and performance.

Curiously, their articles carry an element of surprise that Abbott should have turned out to be such a dud, as if this was to some of them not predictable; some even show a touch of disappointment that ‘their boy’, who is the chosen flag bearer of their beloved LNP, is doing so poorly.

Why are they surprised?

When journalists such as Bernard Keane of Crikey ask: ‘What is the point of the Abbott government’, and more recently Peter Hartcher of the SMH tags Abbott: ‘a pointless prime minister’, it is clear that they have at last recognised that Abbott is a dud.

Having written about Abbott’s unsuitability for this high office ever since he was chosen as leader of the LNP, I looked back in the archives to re-read what I had written. I needed to go no further that an article written on The Political Sword on December 4, 2009, just three days after he became Opposition Leader.

Here is the article: Liberals turn up another dud just as it was written. I feel I need to add nothing to this assessment of Abbott made almost six years ago:
Was Tony Abbott the most astonished person after last Tuesday’s ballot for Leader of the Opposition? If one can judge from his performance over the last few days, he was not only astonished but also seriously unprepared for such high office.

But if you look at what he’s said and done since his ascension to Opposition Leader, nothing should have caused surprise.

This is the man who from the time Kevin Rudd became leader of the Labor Party and started to show up well in the polls, insisted that the electorate was ‘sleepwalking’, unaware of how hollow Rudd was. This is the man who after the Coalition’s election defeat, repeated ad nauseam that the Howard Government was ‘such a good government’, and consistently implied it did not deserve to be replaced. This is the man who has done more than any other to defend the Howard legacy.

This is the man who was prominent in promoting Howard’s WorkChoices legislation the only concession about which he is willing now to make is that ‘it went a little too far’! He says that the name ‘WorkChoices’ is dead (for obvious political reasons) but that the nation must have flexible workplace arrangements and that individuals ought to be able to make separate workplace agreements with employers – in other words have AWAs. He wants to re-introduce full exemptions from Labor’s unfair dismissal laws for small business with fewer than 20 employees.

This is the man who recently told a meeting that climate change was ’absolute crap’, so why should anyone be surprised that he desperately wanted to defeat Rudd’s CPRS legislation. He’s an acknowledged climate skeptic.

In the few days since his election this man, despite trenchantly criticizing Malcolm Turnbull for his unilateral policy declarations and his lack of consultation with colleagues, has been making his own unilateral declaration that he would bring down a policy to mitigate climate change without a tax being imposed. This despite being confused about his party’s emissions reductions targets! Already, CEO of the Australian Industry Group, Heather Ridout, has expressed concern about Abbott’s quickly announced proposals for climate mitigation and the uncertainty they have provoked; others will follow. Only the most outrageous rent-seeking polluters will applaud.

Abbott has also wandered into the nuclear power issue, saying he would welcome a debate on the use of nuclear energy in this country, and then ventured into the vexed question of selling uranium to India, a sticky diplomatic matter, by saying that he could not see why this was not already being done. Again, without consultation with colleagues! Paul Kelly rightly accused Abbott of what Abbott so delights in accusing the Rudd Government of, ‘making policy on the run’.

Somehow he got into a debate about oil and revealed that he had not heard the term ‘peak oil’! Where has he been? Such ignorance in a political leader is not just amazing it’s dangerous.

He is now saying that he will raid the unspent stimulus package money to fund his election promises; presumably some schools promised new or upgraded buildings will not get them. He says he would scrap the NBN to save money. He would stop the Rudd Government’s home insulation program and the social housing initiative. He is talking of a federal takeover of some functions of the states, particularly the hospitals. He accuses Rudd of mismanaging federal-state relations, which presumably he will fix with a unilateral takeover.

All these ideas have fallen from his lips in the first three days, even before he has selected his shadow cabinet, before there has been a chance for policy formulation. So much for his criticism of Turnbull’s lack of consultation! He says he will be consultative, yet announces policy initiatives every few hours, all in pursuit of differentiating the Abbott Coalition from the Rudd Government.

He has already announced he will include Barnaby Joyce on his front bench, and Joyce has indicated he wants finance. Although Joyce is more suited to vaudeville than serious politics, he looks like getting an influential position as reward for the support the Nationals have given him in defeating Rudd’s CPRS. Abbott has indicated that Kevin Andrews will be elevated to the front bench – the resurrection of a failed Howard politician. Don’t be surprised if more Howardites are elevated.

This is a return to the policies and the personnel of the old, tired, discredited and defeated Howard Government, which Abbott has always insisted was unjustly removed by an ignorant electorate. The revisionism though promises to be even more extreme than during the Howard years – Howard at least had an ETS, not all that different from Rudd’s – Abbott will not; he will have a no-tax scheme! Rudd has described his approach as ‘magic pudding’; we’re awaiting the details that Abbott promises will emerge by next February. What genius will create in just eight weeks what it has taken the Government three years to complete?

Abbott has a reputation for unpredictability and is seen as a maverick. His first few days do nothing to alter that reputation. Despite the Coalition cheerleaders such as Dennis Shanahan and Peter van Onselen predicting that Abbott will ‘take the fight up to Rudd’, and ‘provide a real contest’, who but the Coalition’s rusted-on supporters and fellow travellers will take him seriously?

His Rhodes scholarship is touted as a marker of his intelligence, but his inarticulateness makes one wonder. His umming, aahing and ahahing, and his hesitancy is painful enough, but not as serious an indictment as his willingness to turn turtle on policy, as he did on the ETS, saying only a short time ago that it should be passed into law and got off the agenda, but then saying it must be defeated.

Abbott comes with much baggage, about which no further elaboration is needed. He is a supremely combative political pugilist who believes an opposition must always oppose, must not help the Government with its legislation, and must make life as difficult as possible. It seems never to have occurred to him that the Opposition too has a responsibility in the governance of the nation. ‘Holding the Government to account’ is a phrase oppositions love to mouth, and of course they should, but that does not mean obstructing at every turn, opposing everything, holding up indefinitely legislation vital to the nation, and defeating it whenever possible. For all his faults, Malcolm Turnbull did collaborate with the Government to fashion a revised ETS, which his party agreed to pass, only to have the extremists force it to welsh on the deal. Abbott sees no fault in this.

After just these few days, I predict a chaotic time ahead for Abbott and the Coalition, and a systematic dismembering by Rudd and his ministers of the adversarial and unsound policies Abbott promotes. Like all new leaders, he may enjoy the honeymoon period his cheerleaders anticipate, but if it does occur at all, it will be brief. It’s not as if this man is an untried politician who ‘should be given the benefit of the doubt’ and the traditional Aussie ‘fair go’ as some suggest. We all know Abbott well. We know he is unprepared for this new office, we know how much time he spends on bicycles, surfboards and swimming. If he had paid more attention to contemporary political issues he might have been better equipped.

We know he is a political thinker and has put in writing his philosophy more than most of his colleagues, but that is no substitute for depth of knowledge across the wide range of national and international issues about which his knowledge is dangerously deficient. That could be overcome by attention to detail, thoughtful reflection, wide ranging consultation, careful policy formulation and articulate exposition of policies to the public. If one can judge from the headlong, injudicious and aggressive way Abbott has thrown himself into the fray in the first few days, the prognosis for this occurring, and for resultant political success, seems extraordinarily poor. And even as he tries to make headway, he can expect no respite from Turnbull who will systematically repay him for his treachery in replacing him.

How the Coalition can again throw up what seems destined to be yet another dud defies comprehension.

What do you think?
Six years later, what do you think now? Should Abbott’s performance since then have been a surprise?