I’m really sick of people saying that they didn’t expect Tony Abbott to be the type of Prime Minister he is. I’m really sick of people saying his policies caught them by surprise, that they didn’t expect him to slash and burn to the extent that he has tried, but thankfully, so far mostly failed to. I hear all types of people, even political journalists, saying that Abbott promised he wouldn’t be making cuts and they took him on his word and they didn’t expect him to lie. He had a pamphlet and apparently this was gospel truth about exactly what an Abbott government would look like. To this, I’ve always said, just look at him! Listen to him! Use your brain! Are you blind? Wilfully blind perhaps?
Independent bloggers like me, who predicted exactly how bad the Abbott government would be were told we were just partisan Labor hacks and that he really wouldn’t be nearly as bad as we said. But we, if anything, mostly under-predicted how bad he is going to be. However we were spot on with the ideology that oozes out of this government – the class and culture war that’s been inflicted is exactly as we thought it would be. How did we guess the type of policies Abbott would sneakily introduce once in power, but those who are paid to inform the community totally missed it? Seriously, how was this mistake to universally made? How could Australians be so let down that they have had the Abbott surprise inflicted on them? How could they be left so ill-prepared and uninformed?
This frustration was all running through my head when I came across this address by Abbott as Opposition Leader to the Millennium Forum on 14 May 2010, helpfully stored in Hansard. When Abbott was saying all of this, outlining his plans for Prime Minister Abbott, were political journalists and commentators listening? Or worse, were they listening but couldn’t comprehend what this obvious, blatant ideology would look like in power? Do they have a different definition of ‘small government’ than I do? Or did they know and chose not to say, knowing that Abbott would never win if people knew the truth about him. I fear it’s mostly a mixture of the latter, depending on the media organisation they work for.
You read Abbott’s words for yourself and be the judge. Would Australians have seen Abbott differently if they knew he was coming at politics from this world view? If this world view was explained sampling (for example: small government equals cuts to health, education, welfare and all public services).
Oh, and I can’t help but thank Abbott for his reminder that the last one term Australian government was in 1931. I look forward to Abbott’s government reclaiming that record in 2016.
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH
ADDRESS TO THE MILLENNIUM FORUM
Thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen. It’s great to see so many of you here. Julie, I really do want to thank you for that terrific introduction and yes, I think it is very important to be a politician and a leader of conviction but it’s important that leaders of conviction respect the convictions of those who think differently and if there’s one thing that I hope I have learnt over those 16 years it is that this is a great big wide world, not everyone shares my views. I do, I think, have a duty to do what I can to advance these ideas, these convictions that I have but it’s very important to respect the convictions and the ideas of those who think differently and in acknowledging all of my colleagues I should say a special thank you to the political exemplar of exemplars, namely our former Prime Minister, John Howard. A man of great conviction, but a man who realised that in the office of Prime Minister you had to be a Prime Minister for everyone, not just a Prime Minister for those who voted for you. John Howard, the greatest Prime Minister since Bob Menzies, the finest politician of his generation. I am a different politician to John Howard. There would be some in this room who would be disappointed that I am a different politician to John Howard but I say this: the politician that I am owes a very great deal to John Howard’s friendship and his mentoring and I thank you very, very much indeed, John.
Again, I welcome all of my distinguished senior colleagues. I should pay a particular tribute today to my Shadow Finance Minister, Andrew Robb. Budgets are difficult weeks for both sides of politics. They’re particularly difficult weeks for the finance men. I was the one who delivered the words last night but the ideas and the concepts were very much the property of Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb as well as the property of Tony Abbott and thank you, Andrew, for all your hard work over the last few weeks.
But ladies and gentlemen, we are getting to the business end of the electoral cycle and when we look back over the last two-and-a-half years and ask ourselves what has the Rudd Government actually done, I think they’ve done two things essentially. They have spent all of the carefully accumulated capital, they have blown all of the hard won surpluses of the previous government, that’s the first thing that they’ve done. The second thing they’ve done is that they have very seriously undone some of the important reforms of the former government and indeed of the government before that, they have let the union bullies back into so many of our most vital workplaces, that’s the second thing they’ve done. The third thing they are proposing to do is to plunge a dagger into the heart of Australia’s prosperity because that is what this great big new tax on mining will be. Now, all Budget week we’ve had minister after minister hitting the airwaves saying that this so-called super profits tax is about taking from the London shareholders and giving to the Australian battlers. Well, that is wrong, wrong, wrong.
It is a triple whammy tax. It is a tax on the 500,000 Australian workers whose jobs depend directly or indirectly on the mining industry. It’s a tax on the millions of Australian retirees whose incomes are drawn from those shares and those dividends that the mining companies pay. It’s a tax on consumers because you can’t raise the price of coal, you can’t raise the price of oil and gas, you can’t raise the price of building material, you can’t raise the price of fertiliser without that flowing through into the consumer price index. It is a triple whammy tax and my job, our job as Coalition Members of Parliament is to let the country know the threat that they face from the Rudd Government if it is re-elected.
And you’ve got to ask yourself where does this stop? I mean, if a six per cent return on capital is a super profit for the mining industry, what other industry is next for this kind of treatment? And if you listen to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer talking about how good this great big new tax is going to be for the mining industry, why wouldn’t they impose the same tax on everyone else? There is a fundamental lack of logic, though, about what they’re saying. Any of you who have followed the debate closely over the last few days would know that by the logic of this Budget a tax on cigarettes means less smoking but a tax on resources means more mining. It just doesn’t work. It just defies logic and yet it is the fundamental premise on which the Budget is based.
But haven’t times changed, ladies and gentlemen? Just a few months ago there was BHP, the big Australian, there was Rio, that great, iconic Australian company under threat from potential foreign takeover. These were heroes, they were the heroes that have saved us from the recession. Now, of course, they’re big, exploiting multinationals. Well, as far as I’m concerned they are just businesses but they are important businesses. They are vital businesses if our country is to prosper, if our people are to grow richer and happier, if our country is to be more cohesive in the years ahead, and they do not deserve to be targeted in the way they have by this government.
Sensible politicians know that what you should never do is sacrifice the long term welfare of the country for tomorrow’s headline and that is what this government has been prepared to do and the risk is that they will strangle the golden goose which has laid the eggs, the golden eggs which have driven our prosperity, and I say to all of you that the only thing standing between Australia and this threat is the Coalition. If you think this would be a disaster for our country and our economy there is only one course of action open to you and that is to vote out this Government.
But ladies and gentlemen, this is Budget week and there have been a lot of stories coming out of Budget week. Some of them I’m afraid are fairytales. The idea that the Rudd Government is ever going to deliver a surplus is as big a fairytale as the book that the Prime Minister spent his Christmas holidays writing. It just is not going to happen. They can postulate a surplus in three years time based on very optimistic assumptions about growth, but the only reality, the only hard fact in this year’s Budget is that this year the deficit is $57 billion.
Now, the great thing about coming to these lunches is that they bring you down to earth and I am indebted to one of you for this very important piece of political advice. He said, don’t talk about a billion. A billion dollars is meaningless to the average person in the street. A billion dollars is the cost of 20,000 Holden Commodores. That means that $50 billion is one million Holden Commodores. The deficit this year is the price of one million Holden Commodores. It is a staggering, staggering amount of money and that’s the money that’s going out the door thanks to the profligacy of this Government and, sure, they tell us that we will be in surplus in three years’ time. What they didn’t want to tell us is that every week until then we will still be borrowing $700 million and to use Nihal’s [Gupta] language, $700 million is two 747’s every week. So, that’s a hundred in two years, it’s 150, I mean these are the sorts of figures, these are the sorts of realities that we are dealing with thanks to the continued debt and deficit of this Government.
So, ladies and gentlemen, we do have a clear alternative. At least, I suppose, we can say that both sides of politics believe that we do need to tame the deficit dragon. We do need to kill the deficit dragon. But, the difference is the high road and low road. We will take the high road of reducing government expenditure and creating a more productive economy. They will take the low road of increasing taxes and fiddling with the assumptions.
What we will do is we will spend less, we will tax less and we will have a smaller government. Lower taxes, lesser spending, smaller government are at the heart of the Liberal Party’s principles, they’re at the heart of the Coalition’s philosophy and what I did last night was start to talk about how we would make that happen. Less tax – no great big tax on mining. Less spending – we won’t give money to the education bureaucrats to waste on over-priced pre-fabricated school halls. We will give it to the parents of Australia who know what is good for their kids and for their kids’ education. We won’t re-build Telecom fortyodd years afterwards. We won’t go ahead with the $43 billion white elephant with this big new nationalised telecommunications bureaucracy You know, I spent long enough as a Minister in the Government to have a good opinion of the Australian public service, but we don’t need more and more of them every year.
There are 20,000 more public servants today in Canberra then there were in 2007 when Lindsay Tanner said he was going to take a meat axe to the public service. Well, I’m not so brutal as Lindsay promised to be. I just think that by natural attrition we can have 12,000 less of them and that will save $4 billion over the period of the forward estimates.
So, ladies and gentlemen, lower taxes, smaller government, less spending. We have to get the debt and deficit under control and it’s pretty clear that the only way you can do that in reality as opposed to in a self-serving political fable is by changing the government by supporting the Coalition.
Now, it’s not going to be easy, as all of you know. It is very difficult to beat a first term government and as all of the commentators will tell you, over and over again, between now and polling day, the last first term government to lose was Jimmy Scullin back in 1931. But, ladies and gentlemen, a 79 year old record is just waiting to fall. It’s just waiting to fall. I don’t for a second underestimate the difficulty of the task. I don’t for a second underestimate the gifts of character that will be required from all of our team and all of our supporters over the next four or five months, but I have great confidence in the common sense of the Australian people and I have great confidence in the ability of my colleagues and I think we can win. I think we can win and we don’t want to do it for us. We want to do it for our country. That’s what it’s got to be for. It’s got to be for our country and I know that’s what all of you think. You aren’t here just for the Liberal Party. You certainly aren’t here just for me. You are here for Australia and I want to thank you for that very much indeed.
Whether it’s Abbott as PM or someone else from the Liberal government, it makes no difference. Because they are all the same. Sure, it’s fun to watch Abbott squirm as he realises he’s losing the fight. I can’t deny I’m enjoying the sense of schadenfreude that comes from watching the Liberals respond to ‘leadership tensions’, something the previous Labor government had to put up with for years. But that’s not to say that the Liberals are in the same position as the Gillard government was in, because the two situations are completely different.
Gillard was running an entirely successful government and was effectively negotiating many positive policy successes with independents and minor parties as a member of a minority government. Sure, Rudd was a problem for Gillard. There’s no denying Rudd’s leaking spurred on a press pack desperate for any bite of a story that would save them from doing any policy analysis, something they’re incapable of doing. But for Abbott, Abbott is clearly the problem. His incompetence is his problem. His ineptitude and incapacity for the development of reasoned, logical, fair, sensible and importantly, popular policies, and his lack of negotiation skills to get terrible and unpopular policies through the Senate are his problem. Abbott is a problem of Abbott’s making. And it’s such fun watching the house of cards come slowly tumbling down. Especially since he has no idea what the problem really is.
This is why I think it’s important to note now, at the outset, before a decision is made about Abbott’s future by his colleagues who are stuck between a rock of an unpopular Prime Minister and a hard place of the hypocrisy of changing leaders after the way these same very people attacked Labor for doing the same thing, that a leadership change will make no difference. The reason for this is because Abbott is not unique to the Liberal National Coalition government. He is not even rare. He’s just like all of them and his policies are ideas they all support. So why would it make any difference if someone else is PM? It’s not Abbott who has to go. It’s this government.
Ask yourself, once they’re rid of Abbott and Peta Credlin, who would they put in their place? Julie Bishop, who is more interested in locating an earring which cost more than most workers’ monthly home mortgage payment than supporting Australians on death row in Bali? Malcolm Turnbull, the quality NBN wrecker who’s giving his Telstra mates control of a lemon of a broadband network, which relies on old technology and will barely be faster than the internet network we have already? How about Joe Hockey, the cigar smoking, best night of his life dancing, poor people don’t drive, bully boy architect of the most unpopular and unfair budget the country has ever seen, which has so far failed to pass the Senate many many months after it has been released? What about, shudder to think, Scott Morrison, who clearly takes great pleasure in the suffering of desperate asylum seekers who are begging Australia to help them save themselves? Instead of helping these desperate people, Morrison has been aiming to make Australia a scarier destination than anywhere the desperate people have fled from. Would you trust this man with your children’s future? He’s in charge of Social Services now. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Name someone else, anyone else who could take over from Abbott and you will see it’s quite clear that they are all the same. They all share the same values, values that lead them to misunderstand why they’re so unpopular. They all share the same failure to understand that their policies are to blame, policies they never took to an election. The problem is not the way the Liberals spin their policies. The turd is unpolishable and the turd is everyone in the Liberal government.
In the simplistic media narrative that goes something like ‘Abbott can’t get his message across so the Liberals need to try a new salesperson’, there is no analysis of the core of the Liberal government’s problem. The core is that their extreme conservative ideology is disgusting and Australians don’t like it. Australians value a fair go, where a person’s post code doesn’t dictate their future success. The Liberals hate this idea. Australians believe that quality education and healthcare should be available as a right to everyone in the country, no matter their bank balance. The Liberals think people who can’t afford health and education should be denied health and education. Australians appreciate a clean environment which provides a safe climate for their futures and future generations. The Liberals cancelled the Carbon Price to help their rich business owner mates continue to pollute our environment and endanger our futures, all to maintain their rich business owner mates’ profits. Australians think we should all benefit from the rewards that come from the sale of natural resources we all own. The Liberals defended rich miners by cancelling the mining tax. Australians think those who have benefited most from the Australian civilisation – those who are the richest – should progressively pay the most tax to pay forward the opportunities they have benefited from to future generations. The Liberals think the rich already pay too much tax and should pay less, with the tax burden falling regressively on those who can least afford it. The values of Australians are fundamentally different than the values of the Abbott government. This mismatch isn’t going to be solved by cutting off the head of the snake.
So I’ll sit back and laugh as I watch Abbott’s political career unravel, and I will appreciate the self-inflicted karma Abbott and his colleagues have brought upon themselves. But I will not entertain notions of anything changing with a new Liberal PM in the top job. The only way to solve this problem, as I suspect Australians have now worked out, is to comprehensively vote the Liberal government out in 2016, if not before.
Abbott must be having a horrible Christmas break. He can’t have missed that his old buddy, his mentor Rupert has completely dropped him and in doing so, has given permission for his newspapers to admit that PM Abbott is a dud. They’re still not yet ready to admit he’s always been a dud and that they were stupid to support him in the first place (as if they’ll ever be ready for this sort of atonement), but they’re willing to go as far as actually reporting his poll numbers, which speak for themselves, and saying that if only he could get his ‘message’ right, their neoliberal Tea-Party agenda would be gratefully accepted by the electorate instead of wholeheartedly rejected. It’s fascinating to watch an entire news organisation finally coming round to the fact that the public knows better than they do whether someone is a good PM or not. I thought the whole definition of ‘news’ was telling us all something we didn’t know, and being first to the story? Abbott’s incompetence is old news, and News Ltd coming to this realisation last is really the only thing you need to know about the incompetence of News Ltd. ‘Oh Abbott’s polls are bad!’ they all cry in unison! ‘We totally didn’t see that coming!’.
So what are News Ltd going to do now that their favourite son has spectacularly failed? If you’ve been paying attention to the number of puff pieces being written at News Ltd about their chosen successor, Julie Bishop, you will see that a Libspill is clearly being planned.
As soon as I realised that Julie Bishop was being put forward as the most likely replacement for Abbott, I realised just how screwed the Abbott government is. Because if Bishop is deemed as the ‘best performer’, it shows just how badly the rest of them have performed. Think about it for a second. What exactly has Bishop done which is so high performing? Perhaps if the definition of high performing is ‘not stuffing up as badly as the rest of the Abbott ministry and being protected by News Ltd so even if you did stuff up the public never heard about it’, then Bishop has been high performing. But all I’ve seen is very basic no-more-competent-than-you’d-expect-of-an-average-politician-statements from her in response to international tragedies, such as disease, terrorism and plane crashes, and of course I’ve seen her slashing the Foreign Aid budget, making Australia the stingiest rich country in the world, bar none. I can see that News Ltd are clearly happy about this, but as I’ve said previously, News Ltd’s opinion and the general public’s opinion do not match and are increasingly at complete odds so News Ltd being happy about something more than likely works against Bishop in the long term.
But even more interesting than the claim that Bishop is ‘high performing’, is News Ltd’s strategy of backing a female Prime Minister, after systematically mauling our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, with a sexist, low-life, scum-filled campaign of hateful lies and misinformation. Just to remind you all, Julia Gillard was the most successful Prime Minister this country has ever had. You won’t ever see any such analysis done in News Ltd papers, but this Guardian article has run the figures showing Gillard as the winner. So keeping this in mind, and keeping News Ltd’s vile anti-Gilllard campaign in mind, how are News Ltd going to position Bishop, a female, unmarried, childless ex-South Australian lawyer as PM material, when they so blatantly positioned Gillard as unfit, whilst appealing to the scum who read their newspapers, who were only too happy to agree? They built the anti-female-leader narrative, so how are they going to tear it down in support for Bishop?
So far, I have seen three strategies at work.
The first is to dress Julie Bishop up in her favourite ridiculously expensive clothes, to do a bit of airbrushing and to photograph her looking relaxed and feminine as if she doesn’t have a care in the world (or an office, or a desk, or, for that matter, a job. Notice how male politicians are never photographed posing as if they’re in a fashion magazine?). It’s also worth noting at this point that when Gillard posed for a Women’s Weekly photo shoot in 2007, Bishop was reported as saying:
“I don’t think it’s necessary to get dressed up in designer clothing and borrow clothing and make-up to grace the cover of magazines… You’re not a celebrity, you’re an elected representative, you’re a member of parliament. You’re not Hollywood and I think that when people overstep that line they miss the whole point of that public role.”
Clearly Bishop thinks she is Hollywood and is a celebrity and that’s the end of that.
The second strategy to ready Bishop for the position as Australia’s second female Prime Minister is for her to paint herself as not a feminist, and not as having benefited from feminism to get where she is. It was all her, apparently. And women who think they need feminism to get ahead need to stop complaining and get on with it, apparently. I feel that Bishop claiming she’s got where she is without the help of the feminist movement is akin to the captain of a football team being presented with the Grand Final cup and saying ‘thanks so much for all the applause. Clearly I played really well and that’s why the team won. I don’t know what all those other guys on my team were doing, but without my individual effort, the Grand Final cup would not be mine today’. Feminists have every right to be offended by Bishop’s suggestion that their hard fought battles are just a campaign of whinging. And of course they have every reason to laugh at Bishop, who is one of two women in Abbott’s cabinet, after being the only one for the first year, presumably because all the other Liberal women of merit were too busy complaining instead of being merit selected in a cabinet that is full of un-merit-worthy men. You’ve got to laugh so you don’t cry!
Finally, the last strategy to prepare Bishop for a leadership challenge is for News Ltd to claim that she is nothing like Gillard, and so should never be compared. Please look away now if you don’t feel like being angry for at least the next month over the following statement that was made in this Courier Mail Julie Bishop-fan-mail-puff-piece. Or do what I do and try to turn your anger into productive rage:
‘Dignified yet determined, Ms Bishop has succeeded where Julia Gillard failed, by showing that women can perform at the highest levels of political office without either hiding behind their gender or sacrificing their femininity. A passionate advocate of women, Ms Bishop believes in merit-based promotion, and her own hard work is now reaping rewards, both on the international stage and in domestic polls. And the damage done by Ms Gillard to the public perception of women in leadership roles is slowly being healed as voters regain confidence that a female politician can deliver’.
So this is the campaign and it’s well underway. There’s no sign yet as to how News Ltd will deal with Bishop’s embarrassing past of plagiarism, or her seedy career as a lawyer fighting against asbestos victims, and apparently once asking ‘why workers should be entitled to jump court queues just because they were dying’. But we will watch and see as News Ltd comes up with new techniques of dishonesty to repel any criticism of their new-found-favourite candidate. And of course, it will be fascinating to see how such a leadership spill could possibly be orchestrated without use of the words ‘blood’ and ‘stab’ littered throughout the reportage. No doubt that’s the last piece of the puzzle that needs to be worked out before we wake up to find Abbott gone, and PM anti-feminist-pro-Armani-asbestos-Julie in his place.
It’s been a year since I last wrote to you. I was very angry back then, but you’ll be pleased to hear that this letter is not being written in anger, but has much more of a triumphant tone than my previous correspondence. The reason for this turn in my mood has everything to do with the reversal in your political fortunes over the previous 12 months.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, you are incredibly unpopular. Looking back at my grievances with you in the past, I can see that much of my frustration about your behaviour was born from the fact that you were so obviously getting away with being a complete wanker while still managing to be elected Prime Minister of Australia. No matter how much I tried to tell people just how dangerous a prospect you were as a PM, and no matter how violently opposed I was to everything you stood for, the Australian voting public went ahead anyway and chose to eat shit because they didn’t like spinach, and I must admit I may have gone a little mad with the injustice of it all. But I feel better now because you’ve been exposed. And you’re done now Tony. You’re finished.
Unfortunately the realisation that your character and your behaviour has finally caught up to you, hasn’t made up for the terror that you have inflicted on the Australian public during your first year as Prime Minister, and obviously won’t save us from the two years of terror we have to come. No matter what happens to your job Tony, your government is still ruined. I assume you’re fairly concerned about the permanency of your position as Prime Minister in the short term, considering just how unpopular you are, not just with the voting public but also with your own colleagues. You know as well as I do that the distraction of blaming Peta Credlin for all your faults can only last so long before those who used to support you start to question how it is that you either a) let Credlin make all your decisions for you and put words into your mouth considering you are meant to be the Prime Minister of Australia and capable of being the Prime Minister without a puppet-master controlling your every move, or you b) don’t let Credlin make all your decisions and instead make all the decisions yourself in which case the problem is with you and not Credlin and therefore you’re not capable of being the Prime Minister and should clearly be moved out of this job. I’m predicting a couple more Newspolls and you’ll be facing one or both of these questions. But either way, the problem with your government Tony is that you’re all as bad as each other. I’ve given up playing the ‘which Liberal MP is the worst in the government’ game because every time I settle on a winner, another contender reminds us why they are indeed the worst, and in fact you’re all competing to be the worst every day as if you’re running a sweep for which there must be a sizeable prize as you’re all trying your very hardest to piss off the electorate to the point of total electoral demise. It would be much more fun to watch this scene unfold if it wasn’t reeking such havoc on the fabric of my community in the meantime. But thankfully, the damage you are doing in the short term is just cementing in the minds of Australians an absolute determination never to let you or anyone like you anywhere near the job of Prime Minister ever again. So we can take the short term pain for the long term relief of you being a forgettable blip in an otherwise successful generation.
There’s one thing I want to make clear Tony. I’m not upset because members of your government are prone to ‘gaffes’, because I don’t think anything you or your other badly performing team members say are actually ‘gaffes’. A ‘gaffe’ is defined as ‘an unintentional act or remark causing embarrassment to its originator; a blunder’. A gaffe would therefore be something you said that you didn’t really mean, which you could easily apologise for and could be written off as a mistake and something that would never happen again. But no. It’s not just that the outrageous things you and your fellow Liberals have said are deeply offensive, and have helped Australia to get to know the true colours of you and your government, and to discover just how much we don’t want you running our country. There are no accidental slip ups when Peta Credlin is feeding words into your ear, which you carefully recite, slowly, mechanically, repeatedly, eerily, nastily, and sometimes with a perverse, psychopathic, lip-linking grin. You say exactly what you mean, and more importantly, you follow through on exactly what you say. So it’s not the sales pitch, the slogans, the sound bites, the ‘coal is good for humanity’, the ‘best thing I did for women was to repeal the Carbon Tax’, the ‘I’ll shirt-front President Putin, you bet I am, you bet you are’ memorable moments of your harrowing first year as Prime Minister. No, it’s everything you and your team say, constantly, every day, backing up your actions; your nasty ideological agenda, your culture war, your assault on social services, your refusal to take responsibility and instead blame Labor response to everything, your policies, your interest only in the super-rich, your hatred of the disadvantaged, your attacks on health and education, your inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, your vandalism of the environment, your racism, your sexism, your mismanagement of the economy, your attack on unions and the jobs they support, your campaign to use fear to control us, your beating up of what you call ‘leaners’, your self-entitlement, the most unfair budget Australia has ever seen, it’s everything you have ever done.
So forget about looking at your message Tony. Forget about the words. Your problem isn’t that the ‘left’ has figured you out and has found the best way to exploit your weaknesses to our advantage. The problem isn’t the budget sales pitch, something you can solve by hiring one of your ABC supporters as your new media manager. No Tony, the problem is you. The turd cannot be polished. We don’t like you and you keep digging the hole bigger. Scott Morrison as Social Services Minister? You’ve got to be fucking kidding Tony. If you think that’s going to fix things, you’re dumber than I thought. And that’s why it’s over for you. Your government will be voted out in 2016, with or without you as their leader. It’s over Tony. Australia doesn’t want you as our Prime Minister. Australia doesn’t want a Liberal government full of conservative fundamentalists. And there’s nothing you can do now to stop us correcting our mistake.
Yours sincerely, as always
My first thought on hearing the news of the hostage situation in Sydney’s Martin Place this morning was ‘those poor, terrified people and their anxious families. What a horrible thing to happen!’ and then slightly irrationally (because fear can be irrational), I thought ‘and just before Christmas too’ as if this made the horribleness of the situation more horrible. The next thought I had was condolence to the Islamic population of Sydney and Australia who will, no doubt, be frightened by this situation not just because of the randomness of such an event happening in our peaceful country, but because they know, like they found out after September 11, that their communities will be blamed, hated, abused, discriminated against and generally shunned by large sections of the non-Islamic Australian community through no fault of their own. Perhaps they’re not just scared. If I were them, I would be furious.
I was a teenager when the Port Arthur massacre happened, and I don’t recall there being a backlash at the time against white people with blonde hair. I’m a white person with blonde hair, and no one has ever heaped me into the ‘possibly a mass murderer’ bucket along with Martin Bryant. Or more recently, Norwegian Anders Breivik, who apparently killed 69 young political activists because he didn’t like their party’s immigration stance which he saw as too open to Islamic immigrants. In fact, in neither case do I recall the word ‘terrorist’ even being used to describe the mass murders of innocent people.
As soon as I saw the images of the white Islamic text on a black flag in the window of the Lindt Café on the news this morning, I knew Australian bigots would be singing with the cries of ‘I told you so!’ and I was right. According to The Guardian’s commentary of today’s events, King Bigot, Ralph Cerminara, leader of the anti-Muslim organisation Australian Defence League, hurried down to Martin Place to rant about Muslims and was moved on by police. Charming stuff. But of course Ralph is not alone. I noticed Greens MP Adam Bandt received a series of bigoted responses to this tweet:
Here are 5 of the first 6 responses on the twitter feed:
It’s important to note, not that Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph cares to be accurate, that the flag photographed in the window of the café is not an Islamic State flag. We don’t know anything at all about the hostage takers yet, they may be Islamic State supporters, they may not. But Murdoch’s newspapers, and the bigots who take this news as truth won’t let unconfirmed facts get in the way of a good excuse for some old-fashioned fear mongering and racist bigotry.
This ‘how-much-profit-can-we-drag-out-of-this-tragedy-that-we-know-barely-anything-about’ afternoon edition Daily Telegraph front cover makes the very dubious statement of ‘THE INSTANT WE CHANGED FOREVER’. But have we changed?
The only thing that I can see as having changed in this situation is the level of comfort bigots feel about being openly racist towards people of Islamic faith. And that’s the very real, very scary, very confronting part of this tragedy. Not just that this shocking, violent siege can happen to innocent people on a quiet Monday morning a week before Christmas. The tweets to Adam Bandt show a side of Australia that we all know is there, but we prefer not to think about. These bigots are the reason asylum seeker policy is such a political hot potato in this country, and why Tony Abbott is able to be elected promising to ‘stop the boats’. These nasty racist people aren’t a rarity. And they vote. Welcome to Australia. We haven’t changed a bit.
I wrote recently about the mainstream media narrative of ‘yes the Liberal government has problems, but they’re no worse than the previous Labor government’- showing that these journos can’t possibly criticise Abbott without throwing in the tired old ‘but Labor was just as bad’ comment, to keep their Labor bashing credentials alive. Now we have a new play on this theme, which isn’t really a new play for this blogger as he’s been writing on this topic for some time. Tim Dunlop has contributed this week yet another edition of his narrative that the problem is the two party system – and that the Abbott government is the two party system’s symptom, not a problem in itself. Here are three recent Drum articles by Dunlop on similar themes: this one is about the problems with a two party system being unrepresentative of community attitudes, this one is a suggestion that our elected representatives could be chosen by lottery, and this one is about the community’s preference for independents and minor parties which is a symptom of a ‘a deeper democratic malaise’.
I’m going to go out on a limb here amongst left wing bloggers and will say to Dunlop, and those that agree with him, what are you talking about? What if Dunlop and people who share his views are so obsessed with their idea that our democratic system is ‘broken’ that they’re purposely looking the other way, rather than seeing all the good that has come out of our democratic system in the past, and how much good could still be done?
When Gough Whitlam died this year, there was an outpouring of grief combined with a celebration for what this leader had achieved in the very short time he led a Labor government. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this success happened in a two party system. And what about Prime Minister Julia Gillard who led a minority government successfully, in a two party system, so successfully that she was the most productive Prime Minister this country has ever seen. So this broken system that Dunlop is writing about, this system that no longer represents the wider community’s values, how was it able to produce a minority government of such amazing, but admittedly unsung and largely unappreciated, success?
I’m currently researching political narratives and framing, and I’ve learned that once a frame is secure in someone’s mind – once it’s a ‘thing’, people find it very hard to see a situation through this frame in the same way that someone else with a different frame sees it. So I would argue that Dunlop and I both think we’re equally right and perhaps we are. But let me at least argue my case as to why Dunlop’s frame clashes with mine.
Dunlop’s frame is that the previous Labor government, and clearly the current Liberal government are not interested in representing the wider community and are only interested in ‘the echo chamber of the concerns of the broader political class’. Dunlop therefore, having made this decision, lets this perception of Labor and Liberal politicians run through every judgement he makes about politics. Major parties are apparently out of touch. Minors and independents the only true representative leaders. Apparently minor billionaire Clive Palmer and his PUP Senators, Motoring Enthusiasts, Family First’s Bob Day and the now independent Jacqui Lambie amongst them.
My frame, however, is that politics is about good policies and, equally as important, implementing good policies. My values align with Labor’s values and a Labor government is therefore the best chance I have of seeing policies implemented that align with my values. I don’t just want good ideas from politicians, I want the opportunity to see these ideas become reality and therefore I will fight for Labor’s opportunity to do this. This doesn’t mean I agree with everything the Labor government does. But broadly, I do see their values aligning with mainstream Australia – at their very heart they aim for sustainable economic growth, healthcare, education, employment and opportunity for all Australians no matter what background. I see these values at the heart of Labor’s policies and for the most part, I am happy to passionately fight to see Labor achieve policy success with these values that I know align to mine. So I clearly come at this from a different view point from Dunlop. Where I see Labor government success, he sees a problem akin to Tony Abbott.
Dunlop mentions that he sees the two party system as being only interested in ‘allegiance to the economic system of market liberalism’. Yet he doesn’t mention what system he would prefer they had allegiance to. Perhaps this is where Dunlop’s disappointment comes from (and I would argue that this is not a mainstream malaise). The Liberal Party is the party of economic rationalists. The Labor Party promises to civilise capitalism – to try to reduce the inequitable power between labour and capital. But Labor has never promised to get rid of ‘market liberalism’ altogether and perhaps anyone who expects that they should is bound to be disappointed that they won’t. Again, I wonder what Dunlop would prefer from a government? A denial of globalised capitalism and a protectionist communist democracy instead? Or maybe he wants a coalition government of random small and individual factions, who have to fight out every policy to get a backroom deal done for themselves, at the expense of the wider community, and at the expense of long term planning and vision for the country? Maybe he wants a system of self-interested pork-barrelling, as outlined by Kay Rollison here. That’s the thing about Dunlop’s anti-the-system commentary; he’s very good at saying what’s wrong with the way things are now, but never quite gets to a point where he has a sensible suggestion of what could work better. And no, I don’t count a ‘lottery’ as a sensible suggestion.
And speaking of a lottery, then we have Dunlop’s preference for minor parties and independents, who apparently are another symptom of the problem with the two party system (although this is where I’m confused as to whether Dunlop sees them as a symptom or part of a solution). I’m sorry to say this about a blogger I respect, but again Dunlop, what are you talking about? The most uninformed voters I know choose the most random of independents and minor parties because it’s trendy. Because it’s hip to be ‘against the established parties’, to be an ‘anti-politician’. Not because it’s smart. Not because it’s going to be ultimately productive for their values into policies agenda. Not because they actually have any idea what on earth these independents and minors stand for. How many Family First voters realised Bob Day is on a mission to destroy the minimum wage? Seriously – poll them and see how few took any notice of Day’s very well-known values. Or what about another South Australian Senator, Nick Xenophon, who has just announced that he is starting a political party. A party based on what values? Xenophon got elected to the Senate in 2008 on the values of getting his face on TV through stunts and promising to axe pokies. I have no idea what happened to his passion for pokies policies because it’s not been mentioned in a long time. But I wonder how many people who mindlessly voted for him were aware of the lottery of votes their elected representative would contribute to in order to help the Liberals get their Direct Action joke-of-a-policy through the Senate, and more recently to reinstate Temporary Protection Visas. But that’s the thing about independents and minor parties – they escape any sort of criticism from people like Dunlop. Apparently they win the day they get elected, and after that they have a blank slate to do and say whatever they like – and no one who votes for them, or publically supports them, ever calls them out. What about when the Greens blocked Rudd’s ETS. Sorry, I haven’t forgotten because this is one policy I am extremely passionate about and I hate the idea of minor parties playing politics with it for their own electoral purposes, when the fate of our future is at stake. But no, there’s no criticism from anyone who voted for the people outside of major parties. No, it’s the major parties that are the problem apparently. The hardworking, values driven Labor MPs are heaped in with the conniving Liberals as if they’re all from the same stock. They’re just as bad as each other.
If Dunlop was clearer about what is was actually advocating in place of the two party system, I might be able to more clearly define why I disagree with him. But ultimately, it’s his prerogative to keep writing on this topic if that’s what he wants to do. And I’ll keep pointing out that I disagree with him. I believe Tony Abbott is the problem with Tony Abbott and I’m not interested in people trying to make excuses for this problem by blaming the two party political system. And I’ll be fighting, in our two party system, to get rid of him in 2016. Whether the minors and the independents are interested in supporting this campaign is also clearly, a lottery.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my marketing career, it’s that a brand does not belong to those who own it. Nike is not defined by what Nike chooses to say about Nike. Your local restaurant can claim to be sell the best meal in the city. But none of what they say matters nearly as much as how those who consume the brand identify with the brand. Perception is reality when it comes to branding. No one is ‘cool’ because they say they are. Even people’s personalities are a reflection of what others think their personalities are. Someone else decides you are shy and it doesn’t really matter what you think you are. If others see you as shy they will treat you like a shy person. People are cool because other people think are cool. People who try to be trendy are the least trendy. Trendy is other people’s perception of you.
It’s exactly the same with political narratives. I’ve been learning this the hard way by studying the political narratives of the major parties in relation to Labor’s mining tax. What I’m finding is that Labor did have a clear message when it came to the mining tax, but they never had a consistent narrative because the electorate never saw the mining tax the way Labor hoped they would. I’ve been reading everything Labor said about the mining tax from the day it was launched in May 2010 to the day Kevin Rudd was fired from the position of Prime Minister (an excruciatingly long seven weeks), and I’ve seen with my own eyes the effect that the electorate’s perception of the mining tax had on the Labor Party. In the first couple of weeks, Labor announced the policy with the confidence of people who think they’re going to be patted on the back. They felt they were the bearers of good news. But it all fell apart very quickly.
Why wouldn’t Labor expect to be congratulated for introducing the mining tax? Ordinary Australians were being told that their retirement savings would be pumped up at the expense of billionaires who would remain as billionaires while they chose to keep making billions out of mining. Every company in Australia was being offered a tax cut and small businesses were getting generous tax allowances on top of this. Infrastructure spending was increasing, equating to many new jobs in construction – an industry that employs thousands more people than mining and that has a much bigger multiplying effect on the economy. A super profits tax, by its very nature, does not affect jobs. The argument for the mining tax was sound and Labor communicated this argument clearly. The resources the billionaires were mining were owned by us. So why shouldn’t we see some benefit from them being pulled out of the ground, something that can only happen once? Why shouldn’t we each improve our own individual sovereign wealth fund, our superannuation account, during a once-in-a-generation mining boom?
The argument was sound. But for some reason, all Abbott had to do to oppose the mining tax was to say it would cost jobs (something which is completely untrue) and the whole Labor argument fell to pieces. The electorate preferred the doom and gloom negative message from Abbott which was dutifully reported as fact by an always-compliant-to-right-wing-messages-of-doom media. Even when the mining tax was still a popular policy, the electorate still turned on Labor and took the word of Abbott and his big-mining donors over the word of the Labor government. As soon as Labor realised they weren’t being patted on the back, their argument wobbled, and then cracked, and then broke. There was chaos. They lost confidence in what they believed in. If the electorate doesn’t want the mining tax, what do these ungrateful sods want? For Rinehart to keep getting richer while they all stagnate or get poorer? You can see it right there in Hansard. You can feel the Labor government pulling their hair out in despair. Their mining tax argument died because the electorate didn’t buy it. The narrative is owned by the people, not the government. The perception of the policy is owned by the voters. And once they decide they don’t like it, there’s very little you can do, or more importantly, say to change that.
There’s a lesson in this for Abbott. Not that he’s the type to learn lessons. I’ve seen right wing commentators, and even members of Abbott’s governments complaining that they need a better narrative. But a narrative is just a reflection of the story voters are seeing rolled out in front of them through everything the government does. Every policy announcement. Every policy outcome. Every press conference, every interview, every comment. All of this shows people the story of the government. You can’t fake it because it is what it is. You can manicure your Facebook profile to look like you have a glamourous, exciting, interesting life, but if your life is ordinary, unglamorous and run-of-the-mill, your Facebook friends aren’t going to be fooled. And the electorate hasn’t been fooled by Abbott. He can say all he likes about what his government stands for. He can sprout three word slogans like ‘open for business’ and he can promise a grown up government and one who takes responsibility for their actions. He can also try to focus on the parts of his first year which he thinks were successful, and hope that everyone forgets all the bad bits. But there’s no lying because we’re all here. We can see the economic figures which show the country is worse off than it was under the Labor government. We’ve watched Abbott break promises. We know we don’t like university deregulation or the end of universal health care or cuts to the ABC or innumerable other policies which have been inflicted on an unsuspecting electorate. Abbott can try to justify his cuts to welfare as good for the economy, but we can all see these are ideological attacks, inconsistent with the Australian value of fairness and egalitarianism.
People need to stop talking about the narrative as if it’s something that can be manufactured to justify behaviours of the past. Everyone’s personal story is told in the way they conduct their lives and a political narrative is no different. Abbott’s narrative of petty ideological revenge on his political enemies is as clear as day to anyone who cares to look. We own Abbott’s narrative and there’s nothing he can do about it except to change his behaviour. He’s made it clear he has no plan to do that. So his ever growing unpopularity will continue to increase. And his government will be voted out after its first term because of it.