Anthony John Abbott, Australia’s kamikaze pilot Prime Minister continues to drag the LNP coalition deeper into disaster and defeat, plumbing new depths of disappointment, unpopularity and disapproval. Those who have vested interests in the longevity of an LNP government are increasingly talking of alternatives such as Julie Bishop, most recently air-brushed in the Murdoch press as heiress apparent in the faint hope of restoring at least enough support for the ‘safe seats’, such as Pyne’s seat of Sturt not to change hands in 2016.
By December the Coalition’s primary vote had slipped to 38 per cent while Labor’s had risen to 39 per cent, indicating a two-party preferred result of 54-46. Analyst, Andrew Catsaras identifies a 7.5 per cent primary vote swing against the Abbott government since the election. Three-quarters of it has gone to Labor; one-quarter to the Greens
Switching the figurehead, however, is not going to help; not going to change the course of the SS Team Abbott. Not only is the electorate underwhelmed overall, it is clear that in vital quarters, such as women voters, for example, Abbott and his team have inspired an intense, implacable hostility.
That hostility continues to expand with each adverse move the government takes towards caring, towards compassion, towards responsible government for all. Switching ‘Mad-Dog’ Scott Morrison to Social Services was, in itself, a massive rebuff to all who value caring in our society.
News items such as Morrison’s recent threat to the Moreland Council’s authority to bestow citizenship because they left his immigration slogans out of the ceremony serve only as further nails in his coffin. Morrison could not leave Immigration without a swift kick to the belly of those who oppose cruelty, torture and indefinite detention in the name of the Australian people.
Abbott does not know how to lead a government. The consensus across the nation, even amongst supporters is that ‘Tony-one-note’ may have been an impressive wrecking machine in opposition but he is dangerously out of his depth in the deeper waters of leadership; now that he make must meet more complex demands such as making policy, exercising authority and showing real leadership. And unlike his past, where others have always got him out of trouble, Abbott must now wear the responsibility which comes with the highest office. It is not an easy fit. He is clearly, by temperament, most suited to inflicting damage but now he needs to be in damage control mode, he can’t find the switch.
Abbott, the unlikely rising contender distinguished himself rather more for his manic ambition, his dogmatic negativity, his chauvinism, his bottom-feeding misogyny and his chutzpah, his outrageous often ludicrous audacity, than any particular skill or commanding intellectual depth or breadth.
No, Abbott gained attention by other means, by stooping low, easily our lowest stooping Prime Ministerial candidate in Australian political history. He Limbo-danced, (how low can you go?) his way into the short-attention-span, shallow end of the pool of popular consciousness.
Yet pandering to popular prejudice and other forms of stooping to seek approval has proved a two-edged sword for Abbott and his government. His notorious support from toxic quarters set up a reciprocal axis which has infected his personal approval and his government’s legitimacy. The damage has been done by his alliance with Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt and other tabloid hacks in Murdoch’s press and his mateship with far right Sydney shock jocks such as Alan Jones, who indulged his own personal hatred of women with a public ‘ditch the witch and Juliar‘ persecution. The pigeons have come home, if not to roost, at least to defecate all over his reputation.
Now Tony One Note has been catapulted into power by the decline of the Labor government, and by a series of whopping lies and simple slogans and big backers, Abbott’s Team Australia most notable achievement is the consistency with which it malfunctions and underperforms, disappointing its wealthy supporters by behaving more like an opposition than a government. Swinging a wrecking-ball at anything environmental, for example, may well appeal to his vengeful side, and brownie points from the sclerotic, climate-denying rump of his parliamentary party, but it wins him no new political capital.
A competitive over-achiever, fuelled by an almost paranoid anxiety, Brown-coal Abbott has now reached the point where he is glancing nervously over his shoulder as he poll after poll delineates his accelerating political decline.
Waiting in the wings, according to Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph is the heiress apparent, Julie Bishop, aka Princess Mesothelioma an ambitious Adelaide blueblood from the same set which gave us Alexander Downer, a woman with strong connections to old money whose political star is rising in a murky, if not downright stygian firmament. The elevation is interesting for its pitch. Deciding wisely not to put an intellectual or outstanding record first, the Telegraph has opted for a glamorising the woman in Julie rather than the person or the politician.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has appeared in her most glamorous photograph yet, posing in a Giorgio Armani dress and heels.
The justification offered by Ms Bishop is that she used the shoot to deliver a serious message about the gender divide in Canberra: “I wish there were more women in Cabinet. I think women make a great contribution to discussions; they offer a different perspective.” Especially if they twerk like Miley Cyrus, the feral Telegraph reader adds reading between the lines.
Women in power, Bishop assumes we all accept, regularly use photo-shoots to offer insightful observations of grave and profound nature as she has chosen to offer. Bishop’s world-view and her presumption usefully free her from deigning to expand on what her ‘different perspective’ amounts to. Or if it’s heeded.
That’s because Bishop’s different perspective amounts to nothing or less than nothing when you look at her record. Bishop, of course, has used this line before. Her claim has been that despite being the only woman in cabinet, up until the recent reshuffle, she spoke out; she made her opinion known. Perhaps that’s why the government has used her portfolio like a piggy bank, raiding it whenever they need to honour other commitments such as the insultingly paltry $200 million to the UN Green Climate Fund 9 December. We now have the lowest spending on overseas aid on record. On top of 7.6 billion cuts already announced, Abbott will now cut a further 3.7 billion over 4 years. Bishop has no funds to do anything and countless former aid recipients who feel betrayed, hurt and abandoned by the Foreign Minister and her government.
Bishop has now just broken her commitment to the women of the Pacific, a cause she has claimed is dear to her heart, a commitment which she had assured all parties was rock-solid. Why? It’s because her patriarchal party’s cabinet has raided her fund. You may tell us you have the ear of the cabinet, Ms Bishop, but the evidence is so damningly to the contrary, that all you do is injure your credibility further. Unless of course, you bank on exclusive brands and your glamour, a commodity which the Telegraph suggests continues to increase:
What other qualifications does this daughter of the Adelaide toffocracy, have on Abbott’s job? The Daily Telegraph is keen to explain that Bishop is a woman who has not bartered her femininity to achieve success. The photo shoot could have fooled many of us. But in the sense that the Telegraph readers love, they can be assured that Julie has kept up her appearance and looks a treat. Of course, as Victoria Rollinson notes, in 2007 Bishop confirmed her abhorrence of just being a fashion-plate.
“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.”
So it’s just a line between Hollywood and democratic public life, Ms Bishop? It seems the lady doth protest too much. The Courier Mail has the last word on this element of Bishop’s designs.
‘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’.
Bishop then has made clear that she is not a feminist. She chooses to look at the world through another lens, she claims. She doesn’t self-identify as a feminist, as she puts it, her backhanded vacuity trivializing feminism as a matter of image or an adjective one might employ in one’s PR material. Yet Bishop happily accepts all of feminism’s gains, whilst being so airily dismissive. She does not, it seems understand that a career in politics for women owes much to historical feminists’ struggles. Oblivious also to her privileged career, she asserts that she has never had any trouble getting what she wants. Clearly, in her eyes, feminism is an optional extra for other women; women of lesser ability than herself.
Waiting in the wings, pursued by a rabidly partisan press, supported by backers anxious they may have done their dough on a dud in Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop has little or no other claim on the leadership. But that didn’t stop Tony Abbott. Bishop’s over-hyped record of success as Foreign Minister is patchy but she enjoys good press. The undertakings to Obama about the astonishing health of the Barrier Reef and the amazing record of the Abbott government in protecting it were probably brushed aside but the Bishop-backers would count this another stellar moment where the little woman stood up for herself against the big bully of the world. Bishop’s talking up of her tough talk with Putin was a great spin on what amounted to a flogging with a wet lettuce. it was another entirely ineffectual encounter: Putin continued ‘putin’ on Bishop either not computin’ or spinning like a dervish.
Spin, or rather hyper-spin, if we may be permitted to spin spin itself, of course is a tactic not confined to Bishop alone in the beleaguered Abbott government; indeed, its slogan could well be ‘It don’t mean a thing if ain’t got that spin …’ with apologies to Duke Ellington and it is a terminal addiction not merely because it is so transparently far-fetched, but because the spinners appear to be taken in by their own spin.
Make no mistake, Julie Bishop is very ambitious. But, so too, was Tony Abbott. Bishop may come into the top job by default, as he more or less did with Labor’s collapse, an event he had more than a hand in. But that doesn’t make the Princess Mesothelioma qualified to lead. Indeed, all the evidence so far, suggests that she is only just treading water in Foreign Affairs. Jumping, however glamorously, into the top job would be getting her into very much deeper water.