When Alan Jones blew off his old pal Tony Abbott on air this Monday, Sydney sat up and took notice. The relationship between the nation’s talkback shockjockracy and Australian politics is a complex and symbiotic interweaving yet it is central to understanding the contemporary climate of unreason which squats like a venomous toad on the Australian body politic. That zeitgeist has many components. Chauvinism, parochialism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, fear, ignorance, cultural cringing, prejudice and superstition – to name but a few – are all constituents. And nowhere are all strands represented better than in the Prime Minister’s regular meetings with Alan Jones, the Sydney radio mouthpiece of all that festers in our national conversation. Nowhere better seen are its dangers.
When Abbott fronted card-carrying misogynist 2GB shock jock Alan Jones, for his regular, cosy rubdown on Sydney morning talkback, the unsuspecting PM copped a bucket of abuse. Jones, the Bondi trout of Australian media, blindsided Abbott with an outburst of invective, screaming insanely at his guest. Jones’ extreme manner channelled Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, another rabid old man, whose pathological rantings stand as a textbook caution to all other tin-pot potentates of the dangers of leaving your syphilis untreated.
‘Jonesy’ was unhappy with Tony. And he lost no time in letting him know. The customary mutual fawning foreplay was ditched in favour of a full-frontal attack. Lips puckered, eyes closed, the PM received no tenderness in return but, instead, was dealt a resounding slap in the face. Abbott’s affections were spurned, his fond hopes dashed with an ice-bucket of scorn. For any lesser mortal it would be a wake-up call, but if the PM heeded his rebuke, only time will tell.
Jones was all worked up. Mouth frothing, he unleashed his yellow-peril-spittle fury all over his studio and hapless guest, flecking the PM’s comb-over and new-look intellectual style rimless spectacles. ‘Jonesy’ ranted about RET, free trade deals with China; how everyone knows the Chinese were buying up Australia; and how, as a result, Abbott was a dead man walking. You don’t have a mandate for this type of free trade, he cautioned.
Jones let it rip. Such was the force of his animation that free trade with China became momentarily almost real, conjured somehow into being from its status as quintessential oxymoron, a contradiction in terms equivalent of a binding agreement with Vladimir Putin or an indemnity from the Iraqi government. Or perhaps a self-regulating command economy. But it was all a scam to Jones and his listeners. Or scam, scum and humbug.
Begrudgingly, Jones acknowledged that Abbott got something right. He had spruiked dirty coal to a visibly alarmed G20 meeting of world leaders many of whom were affecting a new public display of energy-cleanliness. This concession aside, the scheduled post-summit frottage session then plummeted off script, departing its typical mutual pleasuring and dog-whistling agenda.
Jones attacked the Federal Renewable Energy Target for preventing growth. He even declared that Mr Abbott was failing the “pub test” with his imminent free trade agreement with China.
“You know that wind turbines are a fake and heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. Global warming is a hoax, we’ve had nothing for 18 years,” the 2GB breakfast host waded in, massaging two noxious prejudices in the same toxic breath whilst causing mangy dogs to howl from Balmain to Bondi and, on the home front, no doubt earning himself a lifetime’s supply of briquettes from a grateful coal industry.
“People listening to you now say, well he’s talking economic growth, but hang on, the cost of energy with renewable energy targets is crippling economic growth. They’re saying to me ‘we used to have the cheapest energy in the world. Now because of all of this, we actually cannot afford to go on doing what we’re doing, and jobs are being lost here’. Doesn’t economic growth start at home?”
Ears ever attuned to things domestic, Abbott leapt at the opportunity to repeat Goebbels-like the lie that his government’s axing of the carbon tax had hugely reduced power bills across the nation. His listeners, would, however, be under no illusion. Most Australians have seen little or no reduction in their electricity bills. Nor will they. On the contrary, both power and gas are set to increase significantly in the near future.
What listeners missed most, however, was any attempt by their Prime Minister to challenge Jones’ lie.
Why? Abbott is content to collude with Jones’ arrant nonsense. It has worked for him so far. Granted, he knows it is nonsense: his government’s own research shows the opposite is true. Its hand-picked economic modeller which evaluated the impact of the Renewable Energy Target, ACIL-Allen, has found that a wind-back of the scheme’s target would end up costing electricity consumers money, to the benefit largely of fossil fuel suppliers and generators.
Similar conclusions have been reached by other major Australian energy market modelling analysts – including ROAM Consulting, Sinclair Knight Merz, Intelligent Energy Systems, Schneider Electric and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Abbott could have chosen to share this truth and refute Jones. Yet what listeners heard from the Prime Minister’s lips was more raw Bondi effluent:
“I still think they’re high… one of the reasons we want to scale back the Renewable Energy Target is because we want to further reduce power prices,” he said.
“I can’t work miracles Alan, there is no magic wand.”
The Abbott-Jones show is the collusion of two deceivers. One is a folksy-sounding politician who cynically trades in simple conservative slogans and sound-bytes which he hopes people want to hear. The other is a self-interested commercial demagogue who inflames prejudice while pretending to act in the public interest. Constructed on the Abbott-Jones show by the Abbott-Jones show is a two-dimensional black and white Prime Minister working to entice the primitive in the electorate, a public leader in retreat from reason, science and research. Dumbing down, on the other hand, engages all his energies and attention. A leader content to feed us lies, he prefers to buy votes where he may, however he may, at the cost of our country’s future. It is, of course, an ultimately unsustainable strategy. And it will be the end of him.
Jones raged that US President Barack Obama had upstaged Abbott with an “absolutely meaningless” climate pact with China. On rubbishing the climate pact, Jones, Hunt, Abbott, Hockey and Turnbull are on the same song sheet. It is a petty, desperate tactic unworthy of any reasonable adult, let alone a federal government. Yet there was a twist. On foreign ownership, the going was all Jones’ who argued that, of course, there would be free trade because such future trade would involve Chinese companies in Australia dealing with companies in China. Jones claimed this was one-sided. The yellow peril was advancing.
“Hang on… China are giving us nothing. The dairy farms are owned by China,” Jones cried.
In Western Victoria, Jones bellowed, 50 dairy farmers had already signed deals to sell to China.
The Van Diemen’s Land Company, a big Tasmanian dairy outfit, was also preparing to sell to China.
“By this time next week, who is going to own little Tasmania,” asked Big Alan.
“The public are very, very angry Prime Minister about this I can tell you.”
Abbott did do his best to mildly placate if not entirely rebut Jones anger but by then the show’s wilful damage had been done. Renewable energy had taken a hit amidships; the value of the world’s most significant climate change agreement had been trampled in the mire; and fear of overseas ownership had been boosted. And Abbott was in trouble with the people.
Abbott got across his own spin: including the outrageous assertion that he and Barack Obama were on good personal terms, a palpable falsehood given Obama’s address on climate change was virtually a direct personal rebuke in public of him. Yet the exchange was one-sided if not wounding and if Abbott landed the odd punch he was lucky.
He who sups with the devil must have a long spoon. Whatever he has got out of the show does not diminish its potential to continue to harm Abbott. Jones’ latest tantrum shows his hospitality is finite. Above all, Abbott will be paid back in his own coin. The lowest common denominator is a savage beast which grows in appetite by what it feeds on. A hungry beast awaits Abbott outside the studio, waiting to drag him down whenever it can. Just as he has used the beast to drag down his nation’s politics; turning ignorance, fear and falsehood to temporary advantage; his nemesis daily gathers strength, preparing, in the end, to devour its master.
Blow off: to get rid of something or someone.
A Bondi trout: Australian vernacular phrase meaning untreated faecal matter released into the Bondi sea water prior to the advent of sewage treatment systems.