Politically speaking, our Prime Minister is now regarded as a dead man walking. There was a motion to spill the top leadership positions in the Liberals’ party room on Monday. It was moved by a couple of disaffected backbenchers sick to the mayhem at the top levels of the government.
40% of Tony Abbott’s party voted against his leadership – and that was without an alternative leader being nominated. It was Tony vs no-one and no-one got 40% of the vote. And given that his ministers were more-or-less bound by tradition to support him, that number actually rises to 67% disapproval amongst those who had a ‘free’ vote.
Nobody believes that he can recover from this. The next federal election is in 18 months time. Abbott’s approval rating is a deep minus and the party faithful who elected him as leader are all scared of losing their seats. They want a leader that doesn’t treat them like poop and a leader that won’t make them so unappealing that they’ll lose their seats. That leader is no longer considered to be Tony Abbott and the sooner they replace him, the sooner a new leader can build a policy platform capable of reinvigorating the government’s chances of re-election.
So why is Abbott so unpopular? Why has the man who united the conservatives in opposition become such a toe-rag of a Prime Minister?
He Only Knows How To Oppose
I think Tony Abbott’s effectiveness as an opposition leader in the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd era is a little overblown. He was opposition leader against one of the most dysfunctional governments in history, remember. Labor’s implosion was a 50/50 mix of self-harm and effective opposition.
But Tony Abbott is unique in that he is an opposition specialist, which is fine when you’re in opposition. The problem is that he’s now Prime Minister, which means he actually has to govern. He’s like the dog who finally caught the car he’s been chasing – he doesn’t know what to do with it.
Abbott did an interview with Leigh Sales on 7:30 last night and she asked him a very simple question – who are you? We’ve seen Junkyard Dog Tony, the attempted PM Tony and now he’d like us to think he’s a new Collegial Tony. Who is he? Abbott’s answer was telling. He rambled for a few minutes saying nothing in particular and then concluded with something to the effect of “I’m not the Labor Party”.
That’s all he’s got. When you define yourself purely by something you’re not, you’re kidding yourself.
A couple of other recent quotes-of-note are interesting, too:
“I’m terrible at fighting the Liberal Party (referring to the spill motion that threatened to depose him) but I’m a specialist at fighting the Labor Party and I can beat (Labor leader) Bill Shorten”
“I was given a strong message yesterday. If we focus on Labor we can win the next election. If not, we lose”
No. A thousand times, No.
The message was that you have to lead the government in a positive way and actually come up with workable policy that you can pass into legislation. The message was that your backbench is sick of your authoritarian Chief-of-Staff, sick of being trodden on instead of listened to and sick of hearing from their constituents about your stupid “Captain’s Picks” (see below).
If the message Tony Abbott took was that he has to focus on Labor, then he learned absolutely nothing this week. If that’s his strategy, then we can all look forward to another 18 months of a government still acting like it’s in opposition.
Permission and Forgiveness
When Abbott took over the Liberal leadership in 2009, he famously announced to his party room that the conservatives under his leadership were going to propose a generous paid parental leave scheme. It would be funded by a levy imposed on big business and would allow a half-year’s salary to be paid up to a value of $75,000.
Predictably, the policy went down like a lead balloon. Conservatives were outraged a) because of the hit imposed on business, b) because they’re anti-tax in any form, and c) because this was an Abbott thought-bubble imposed on them from on high without any consultation.
This is the first of Tony Abbott’s “Captain’s Picks” – decisions from on high that are justified for no other reason that he’s the leader and what he says, goes.
After the initial furore, Abbott gave a quote that bears remembering whenever he’s delivering one of his carefully crafted, “on-message” speeches. He said that “sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than it is to seek permission” – a quote that sums the man up nicely. It’s OK to abuse your power, to kick who you want to kick, do what you want to do. Afterwards, you rely on the healing power of time and a little wordsmithing to seek forgiveness from those you’ve abused.
It’s all in their best interests, after all. Right?
Lies, and then lies about lies
The Liberal Party were so clued-in to the lies being told by Tony Abbott that they went ahead and registered Abbottlies.com.au to prevent any opposition parties getting hold of it.
Smart politicking? Sure.
Shameful that they’d need to at all? Absolutely.
The big shame in all of this is that the lies have become so blatant, so commonplace, that interviewers don’t even pull people up on these lies anymore. Or they let an interviewee obfuscate to the point that the audience will have forgotten what the question was.
Here are a few examples.
“No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to pensions, no cuts to the ABC or SBS and no change to the GST” – All of these have either been cut or proposed for cuts/changes. Every single on of them. There’s a lie. Abbott likes to justify these broken promises by saying that the budget was in worse condition than the Libs thought……
“When we took over, we found the budget had a $30 billion black hole that Labor had hidden from us” – No they hadn’t. It was right there in the pre-election fiscal outlook (PEFO). Lying about lying.
“There will be no deals with independents and minor parties” – He said this because the last government was formed from a hung parliament and deals had to be done. Since then he’s done deals with Clive Palmer, Ricky Muir and other minor players in order to enact or repeal the few bits of legislation the government has actually tried to action (there haven’t been that many).
“We are a unity ticket when it comes to Gonski (education funding). Schools will get the same under a Liberal government as what they would under Labor” – ….except the Libs have cut the all-important years 5 and 6 from Gonski funding. So no.
There are so many more…..
I could write more but just like Tony Abbott, I’m running out time.
Here’s a few more to round out the list:
The world’s worst budget – we’re 9 months on from the most toxic budget in Australia’s history and much of the 2014 budget is still in limbo. It’ll likely be in limbo when Sweaty Joe delivers the 2015 budget.
The Iron Lady – The PM’s Chief-of-Staff, Peta Credlin, has rarely given an interview or even a quote to the press and yet she’s more well known than most of the government backbenchers. This is because of her iron-fisted control over all sorts of things that many think would be better left to elected people.
He can’t negotiate – It’s so ingrained in Tony Abbott that he’s right and everyone else is wrong that he’s in the unenviable position of being unable to get much legislation passed at all. Even Julia Gillard managed to get over 600 pieces of legislation through a hung parliament. Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible. Abbott’s turning it into an exhibition of the impossible.
Parrot-fashion messaging – People are starting to understand now that you can’t govern by three-word phrases. They’re good for sticking your message in people’s head, but eventually you will be weighed by what you do, rather than just what you say. And people get sick of hearing every politician roll out the exact same phrase in every interview. It makes it patently obvious that the media training consultants are earning their considerable keep in a big, big way. If we wanted a parrot for PM, we would have elected Alan Jones.
He fiddles with the truth – 1 – “We have fundamentally kept faith with the Australian people”. Ah, for the good old days of John Howard’s “core and non-core promises”.
He fiddles with the truth – 2 – All this talk about things like “the biggest deficit in Australia’s history” and other such things. Look, Australia is growing, just like you as an individual, are growing. My annual salary is the biggest it’s ever been. Our country’s population is the biggest it’s ever been. Our GDP is the biggest it’s ever been. Our capacity to repay debt is the biggest it’s ever been. It’s called growth, OK.
He has no vision – You want to talk about debt? Firstly, a country’s budget isn’t the same as a household budget. Countries don’t die, for starters. A Prime Minister with vision instead of pure ideology would realise that now is the perfect time to actually use borrowed money to build money-making assets and infrastructure. Debt is the cheapest it’s ever been (not fiddling with the truth there) with interest rates at around 2%. You want to actually BE the infrastructure Prime Minister instead of just talking about it? Quit your ideology and focus on the economics.