Tony Abbott was the man who could never be prime minister. “He’s just too right-wing,” a colleague told the Courier-Mail. “Too hardline,” said another to Abbott’s face. “He’s very much a mid-20th century sort of a bloke,” declared Labor strategist Bruce Hawker in early June, only to be trumped the following evening by Kevin Rudd, on the 7.30 program, who called him “one of the most extreme right-wing conservative leaders or politicians that the Liberal Party has thrown up”. Waleed Aly
Announcing his much vaunted Cabinet re-shuffle today, Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed that he is incapable of listening to the electorate’s serious concerns with his uncaring, unfair, autocratic style of government and signalled instead that he intends even more of the same. A beleaguered Prime Minister has shuffled a marked deck only to play cards which follow suit. Under pressure, he has retreated further into his atavistic mid-fifties reactionary hard-line political shell but it is unlikely to help him – or his nation.
Tony Abbott has found it impossible to make the leap from Leader of the Opposition to Prime Minister. He is seen as dishonest, untrustworthy, remote and unfair. Now, under huge pressure in the polls and facing a growing backlash within his own party, he has drifted even further to the right. Instead of any broadening of its base, his Cabinet will be narrower with fewer dissenting voices and more triumphal nonsense from those like himself he’s promoted, members of the far, dry right. Fed by the legions of spin doctors in its employ, nourished by the tabloid press, the spin is that we are on the right track. The fatal error is that it appears to have fallen for its own rhetoric.
The new Cabinet choices will continue his government’s remote, autocratic and unresponsive regime. It is a regime in which a balanced budget matters more than caring for people; a budget which matters more than inclusiveness, acceptance, equality or justice. It continues, moreover, the priorities of a government which exists to serve the interests of business and capital and to put those interests above the more challenging and less financially rewarding responsibilities of looking after the people, looking after the planet.
There may be no directorships on company boards for retiring politicians accruing from it, but the ultimate test of the humanity of any regime is how it deals with those at the margins, the poor, the weak, the elderly, the infirm, the alienated and the dispossessed. In this crucial test, this government has been a total failure. Yet the Prime Minister has chosen to tough it out.
Abbott’s regime, so far, has courted the big end of town with all manner of financial incentives, preserving privilege and entitlement and tax breaks whilst neglecting its responsibility to provide for the welfare of ordinary Australians, cutting welfare, education, health and effectively reducing pensions to balance a budget which it has already blown out by thirty billion in a series of dubious spending decisions including an unrequested, unwanted $8 billion gift to the Reserve Bank, its $2.5 billion unproved, untested Direct Action policy and its $2.5 billion military intervention in Iraq.
The Prime Minister who suffers the lowest approval rating in the history of Australian politics, today announced changes which confirm clearly once again why he has alienated so many in such a short space of time; changes, especially in social services which will surely net him even more opposition and hasten his political oblivion. Today’s tinkering indicates a continuing instinct for coercion and imposition from above rather than governing by consensus, co-operation and negotiation; changes which reveal why the nation is convinced he is just not up to the job. Abbott just doesn’t get it. He will never get it.
Terming the changes ‘reforms’, his government’s newspeak for any kind of change it thinks it needs to impose without adequate consultation or research, Abbott squinted into the afternoon Canberra sun as he outlined a series of changes which will be both unpopular and ineffective; changes calculated to accelerate his own demise.
Nowhere is this seen better in his demotion of Scott Morrison, a potential rival his own position and tipped by many in the press as a possible future Prime Minister. Morrison will get Kevin Andrews’ post as Minister for Social Services.
Scott Morrison, the soft, pliable, and nurturing former Immigration Minister is notorious for his intractable, overbearing and confrontational approach to those who dare to question or challenge his approach to his portfolio. An evangelical Christian, he has presided over a draconian quasi-military solution to stopping the boats, an extreme interpretation of his government’s political need to show a decrease in asylum seekers reaching Australia. In every aspect of his language and his actions, he has demonstrated a calculated inhumanity and cruelty from calling refugees, ‘illegals’ to letting children remain in indefinite detention, a situation which has only recently partially eased with the promised re-settling of asylum seeker children from Christmas Island, a concession he offered along with having children phone key cross-bench senators, in order to secure passage of his new migration legislation in which his own powers are enhanced and Australia’s responsibilities to refugees under the UN convention of 1951 are traduced.
It must be noted that Morrison has waged war against an illusory enemy. Very few of Australia’s ‘illegal immigrants’ as they are termed arrive by boat. Yet the facts have counted for little in the battle of reality versus misperceptions and widely held prejudices.
Morrison has appealed to right-wingers, xenophobes and all those whose prejudices are massaged by the nation’s talkback shock-jocks, tabloid press and all other pedlars of lies, misinformation and mistrust who seek the collusion of a mass audience in a collective hysteria which finds its expression in cruelty and hostility to complete strangers.
The former Immigration Minister has also gone out of his way to court these groups in what many have described as Australia’s ‘race to the bottom.’ With this type of audience egging him on, his approach in his new portfolio will be blame the victim and to lapse into a judgemental approach which labels unemployed as lazy and which peddles the myth that there are sufficient jobs ‘out there’ if only unemployed people would look harder.
The consensus in the popular press is that Morrison has done a good job. His image of a man of action who delivers results has been effectively sold using all the support of the tabloid media and a phalanx of Ministerial spin doctors. In reality, however, he has denied justice, denied humanity and presided over a department which either by negligence or by equal measures of incompetence, indifference and cruelty has seen asylum seekers dying from violence or from preventable infection.
Morrison who has adopted extreme measures lest Australia practise compassion, or even accept its UN obligations to refugees and asylum seekers is now to be Minister for Social Services, a role previously discharged ineptly by the immensely powerful Kevin Andrews, a conservative who has added a 1950s touch to his shaping of key elements of Abbott policy behind the scenes.
Morrison, who has the negotiating skills of a rutting warthog is the standout bad choice in a handful of minor Cabinet changes and edge-tinkering. There are some other disturbing choices in which promising unknowns of the right political colour have ‘stepped up’.
The cabinet as a right wing claque will only be strengthened when the former reactionary assistant Education Minister moves up to cabinet to take up Health. Sussan Leahy, will be feted as another woman in Cabinet given Health, yet if her words in parliament are any sign, is likely to be much more like Morrison in her approach to her duties and responsibilities. Expect more rhetoric about self-reliance and higher medical costs, especially for the poor.
New Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, seen by some as compassionate, is unlikely to release his department’s iron grip on those victims of war and other upheaval who have sought our clemency and compassion. The babies may be released from Nauru but the rest of the outrageously inhumane and cruelly punitive Border Protection practices will continue as the Abbott government repeats its boat-stopping as one of its big successes. If only it realised what this shameful disgrace really adds up to in terms of our international reputation and above all in our own sense of everything that is decent and right and proper.
The tacking on of Science into Industry is an insult and one which reveals the Abbott government’s complete misunderstanding of the value of scientific research. It does not redress the original fault, it merely compounds its error. In this, as in all other decisions regarding his cabinet, Tony Abbott has, in desperation lunged further to the right. It is his comfort zone but it will not save him. Rather it will hasten the demise of his own career and ensure that the LNP coalition enters the records not just merely as a one term government but a one term disaster; if not the worst government to ever accede to office.