Abbott and Turnbull collude to deny election promise.
“It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.” Tony Abbott 2011
Tony Abbott is a bare-faced liar. On the eve of the Federal election he promised no cuts to the ABC or the SBS. His words were:
“… no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS”.
It was a catchy slogan designed to inspire trust in his government’s agreement to respect areas of the Australian economy and society vital to the national good; essential to every Australian’s quality of life. It sounded fair and reasonable. What fools we were to trust him.
Forgotten, it seems, was his very own warning against our trusting a word he said. Overlooked, it appears was his own, earlier inner truth parrot’s candid admission of his innate dishonesty. The truth parrot that so often queers his pitch by suddenly squawking the inopportune truth, told the nation that whilst Abbott might say one thing, that didn’t mean Abbott wouldn’t just do the opposite.
Or did we simply not believe him? There is every chance that he was simply disbelieved by the fair-minded and good-hearted who gave Abbott’s blathering the benefit of the doubt. No doubt many decent folk who could not believe their ears, yet kindly put it all down to another Abbott episode. Abbott’s own confession that he could be fast and loose with the truth raised only one public eyebrow.
His Liberal party already had form in this area. This sophistry. John Howard confessed to making core and non-core promises. Now under Howard’s junior successor, the distinction gets even worse. There are real promises and Abbott promises.
Helpfully, keeping a straight face for national TV, Abbott volunteered the tip that voters should get Abbott promises in writing if they intended to believe them. The rest might be tricked up to look good in the show ring but are headed straight for the abattoir afterwards.
This week, barely a year down the track, a track that is treacherous under foot; slippery, steep, strewn with hazards, litter and rough under foot, Abbott’s failing government announces a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of cuts to ABC and SBS.
Its dishonesty is breathtaking in this area alone to say nothing of its indecent haste in trashing its record in the other areas in his election eve pledge, Health, Education, Pensions, GST. It is not the first cut. Federal Finance Minister Matthias Cormann’s announcement of a $256 million dollar cut to the ABC and SBS is on top of a 4.6 % cut already imposed. Who believes the cuts will stop there?
Malcolm Turnbull is quickly despatched to Q&A and 7:30 Report to rescue his leader. Settle us down. Soften us up. The broken promise, it seems is all our fault. We must be disabused of our delusions. Oozing condescension and oleaginous smarm, he patronises everyone, yet all the while smiling indulgently as if dealing with a child who has become fractious over a lost toy at bedtime. His smile, however, reveals piranha teeth.
Mesmerised, horrified, we watch as he sets out to correct our defective memories. Brazenly, bizarrely, Turnbull claims we misheard Abbott. He has shed the customary leather jacket. His own hide is no doubt, thicker, more protective. With lines worth of Yes Minister, fixer Turnbull wants to soothe things over.
He did not believe the Prime Minister intended to give the impression the national broadcaster would be exempt from any future belt tightening. The belt tightening image is a spin doctor’s clumsy softening of the reality. The belt is already tight. Tighten it any further and it is life-threatening: you risk potentially fatal constriction of the patient’s circulation.
The rest of the case is curiously presumptuous. In an interview on ABC’s 7.30 on Wednesday, Turnbull alleges he and Joe Hockey had made it clear during the election campaign that cuts to address the budget deficit had to made across the board and that “the ABC and SBS couldn’t be exempt and that we would be seeking to address waste and inefficiencies”.
What could this mean? Should we have ignored Opposition leader Abbott’s election eve promise because Hockey and Turnbull had spun a different line. Pull the other one. So the great gods Turnbull and Hockey had more authority? More credibility? Save us.
Or is Turnbull offering a type of performance art, an absurdist stand-up routine, an homage to Abbott and Costello’s skit Who’s on First? Very funny, Malcolm. We get it. You are a crack up.
Taking the farce even further into absurdity, Liberal Party Belgian Shepherd, Matthias Cormannn simply barks “well, they’re not cuts”. What they are it seems are ‘efficiency dividends.’ Yet, curiously, his master, Abbott was to be believed after all, even if we silly voters get the c word confused with our efficiency dividends. Or vice versa. “The Prime Minister absolutely told the truth. We are not making cuts. What we are making sure happens with the ABC is what happens with every other taxpayer funded organisation across government and that is to ensure that it operates as efficiently as possible,” barked Inspector Rex.
Cormann explained that the broadcaster should not be allowed to dodge efficiency dividends hitting the rest of the public service. “The ABC has been exempted from efficiency dividends for the last 20 years …” Past cuts, it is clear are an illusion, another function of our defective collective memory.
Implied was the clear message: the efficiency dividend is not a way of constraining the ABC from its independence, an independence unique and invaluable in Australian politics and society. Since there are no cuts, there is no way that the Abbott government is paying out on an ABC which dares to tell the truth about a government which continues to tell lies and lies about its lies.
So there we have it. The explanation is Orwellian Newspeak. A cut is not a cut when it is an efficiency dividend. A dividend is not money you get but rather money that is taken away from you. The ABC is not being reduced or diminished. Instead it’s getting a tune up. Its operation has been dodgy in the past but now it will be put back on the straight and narrow. With caring, attentive, nurturing personal trainers, Cormann, Hockey, Turnbull and Abbott, the ABC will be put on a low carb, no fat diet.
In other words, our national broadcaster is under a death sentence. It will be expected to do more and more on less and less. Until it is completely gutted and it expires of malnutrition. The last word is in Wronski’s freely adapted recall of what may have been one of the tales of Nazreddin Hodja.
A mean, rich merchant boasted to his neighbour how he fed his camel less and less each day. ‘Look, neighbour,’ he said. ‘Last night only a handful of barley. Tonight half a handful.’ ‘That is amazing,’ the neighbour gasped. ‘How much money you must be saving on camel feed.’ ‘I know,’ said the merchant proudly. ‘Look at him! So lean and so healthy. He works every day from dawn to dusk. Does everything I say. No complaining.’ The next day the merchant’s camel dies. The merchant is beside himself with grief and anger. He curses and he sobs. ‘Just my luck, said the rich man. Just when I have almost taught my camel to live on nothing, suddenly death comes along to rob me of my greatest achievement.’