Pumped by his recent rabid attention-seeking overseas, Prime Minister Abbot has wasted no time in getting down to business at home. The big picture is not pretty. Abbott knows we need to rescue ourselves from Howard and Costello’s economic mess. Experts would have told him.
The Liberals squandered the mining boom on buying votes. They missed a golden opportunity for structural reform. They helped increase economic disparity and social division in the process. In turn, they helped prepare for Abbott’s unlikely rise. Tear up any social contract. Every man for himself. Do whatever it takes to get and keep power. Enable the rise of the right wing.
Like a rat up a drain pipe, Abbott has bolted up the track on his party’s inside right. Moderates are marginalised. Ministers are gagged and bound. The Office of Prime Minister runs the show. Forget consensus. Just follow the leader. Team Abbott is defined by coercion and control.
In public, debate is dumbed down to numbing mindlessness. Threats, scaremongering, spin, petty recrimination and blame are this government’s dominant discourse. That discourse can be hard to follow. Talk up the economic crisis today. Talk it down tomorrow. Reversals of direction reflect its pragmatism and betray its lack of a coherent set of principles or plan.
This week, we are told to fear terrorists. Secondly we are to be bullied into accepting the mess of inconsistencies, lies and sheer incompetence that characterise his government’s first budget. Team Abbott has quickly fallen in step with their leader’s hectoring, scare-mongering style.
Warning that we could see beheadings in the streets of Australia, Abbott is happy to frighten us into submission and to distract us from the mess that is his government’s first budget. He shamelessly beats up our fear of terrorists. In the process, he continues his astonishing, redefinition of the office of prime minister. The tone is increasingly high handed and dictatorial . Do as you are told. Don’t disagree or you will be punished. If we don’t get the budget through, we will have to raise taxes.
How long will he last? It is well to remember Abbott’s rise to power. Who thought this weedy, brash, ex-seminarian would claw his way to such exalted heights? Few in his own party. ‘Not yet,’ was Howard’s understated doubt. ‘God help us all’, were Paul Keating’s words. Long dismissed as another clown from the loony right, Tea Pot Tony’s startling rise took many Liberals by surprise. The surprise has abated only slightly, to be supplanted by mounting anxiety. What will Abbott do next? What won’t he do? He’s a skyrocket without a stick.
There were warning signs, it is true. Abbott would do anything, he said, to be PM. Except, as he sensitively and tastefully put it, sell his arse. Yet if Abbott’s naked ambition was on the public record. So, too, was a lot of other embarrassing, underwhelming stuff. He freely confessed to saying whatever came into his head. You needed it in writing if you wanted to hold him to account, he said. His parliamentary antics, plumbed new depths of decorum. His behaviour seemed more symptomatic of oppositional defiance disorder than any rational plan of action.
The next two weeks will be critical as the government tries in two weeks what it has failed to do since the budget was brought down. Don’t expect any change of tack, any new spirit of compromise or negotiation. Instead, get ready for a meaner, narrower Team Abbott to fight tooth and claw. To do whatever it takes to stay in the game. To do over whoever gets in the way.