Good Captain Abbott led Team Australia to a record-breaking tally of red cards, penalty shoot-outs and own goals last week in an incredible seven days of good government which began with an angry Mandy Vanstone caning the Minister for Women in her Monday Fairfax Liberal Party tub-thumper and which ended with the PM deploying the silver-tongued Mathias Cormann to defend his not denying that Australia may have paid thousands to people smugglers to turn back their boat.
The government’s week began badly when the PM copped a broadside from former colleague, Liberal hagiographer and one woman cheer-squad Amanda Vanstone. Vanstone typically goes out of her way to whisper sweet nothings about the LNP but there was nothing mellifluous about her excoriating attack on the PM. It made it all the more remarkable, readable and unanswerable. Mandy did not mince her words.
Abbott was ‘lazy, sneaky or both’ according to the former senator for his contempt of due process in Dutton-gate. He had ‘thrown the whole Westminster system of cabinet government out the window.’ Professing a ‘belief in the individual,’ whatever that means, Vanstone went on to express her:
‘…profound disappointment, bordering on despair, when I see some on ‘my team’ thinking it is OK for a minister alone to take away a citizen’s rights – indeed, take away citizenship – in the blink of an eye. No appeal, no judicial process, just a ministerial decision. What were they thinking?
Some see Vanstone’s attack as the beginning of the end for Tony Abbott’s career in politics. Yet Abbott himself, ever ready to obscure the real issue is quoted in Sunday’s media as being ‘certain the law will stand up.’ No mention of the cabinet hi-jack. No reply to Mandy. There is no reply. She has called it like it is. Not one of her former colleagues has been able to step up and reply to her broadside.
Bill Shorten should be making some political capital out of Abbott’s autocratic arrogance if he were not Bill Shorten and not about to appear in the LNP’s witch hunt of a Royal Commission into unions. Shorten featured wimpily in the news this week bleating that he had always done the right thing by the worker. This seems to have involved condoning having the employer pay employees’ union dues.
Expect a bucketing of Bill from Tony Abbott and his crew next week. Abbott needs the distraction and it serves his real interest in politics as blood-sport. He boasts that he can beat Bill Shorten but beating Bill Shorten is about all he can do. The week showed he does not have what it takes to be an effective Prime Minister. And it revealed a back to the future controlling PMO was very much to the fore again.
Dutton-gate reveals a PM’s Office leaking untruths to The Daily Telegraph. First was a lie that cabinet had been consulted. Second, was the falsehood that cabinet had reached consensus before it had even met. Third is the implicit lie that the concentration of power in the hands of the PMO has been reformed or is any less of a handicap to this government than in February when backbenchers complained of being controlled and shut out.
Stung to be so used and abused two senior colleagues struck back at Abbott. ‘Operation leak-back’ was sprung by two cabinet members, according to Julie Bishop’s friend Peter Hartcher who received the leak. Hartcher was able to publish such a detailed account of cabinet proceedings that the PM’s double deceit is rendered transparent. But this was only the end of the beginning. And the leaking continues.
In the end, the PMO had whip up a posse of backbench support just to shut the buggers up while George Christensen, National Party Whip has offered Abbott his help.
Gorgeous George is the only member of the current Liberal mob to have attended the racist Geert Wilders’ 2013 DIY workshop on bigotry, intolerance and citizen-stripping. He is also the only member of the current government to have boycotted National Sorry Day. What role he plays in whipping up support is an operational matter. Currently he is crusading against gay marriage and is in the PM’s ear.
The wisdom of getting your backbench to trump your front bench has to be conundrum of the week in good captaincy. Surely it is up there with paying people smugglers or trusting Peter Dutton with anything. The public, doubtless, will understand and forgive any PM who is prepared to be ‘creative’ in implementing his vision of a tough on terrorism government.
By ‘hook or by crook’ Tony Abbott assures us he has the national interest at heart even if he cannot deny paying people smugglers to turn back their boats. We can be creative. Who cares what we do if it gets results?
By Friday, the PM made paying people smugglers sound like smart practice. Extolling the imagination and flexibility which our border enforcers brought Under repeated questioning on Friday, Mr Abbott refused to deny the reports, instead saying authorities had been “incredibly creative” in coming up with ways to stop asylum seeker boats making it to Australia.
Regardless of Abbott’s admiration for his authorities’ ingenuity, Indonesia is now demanding an official explanation from an Australian government which seems to have followed trying to ‘buy back the boats’ with a will to ‘bribe back the boats.’ It will not end well for us, or for Abbott. Yet the best Dutton and Abbott can offer so far is denial.
The week drew to a bizarre close on Sunday with Mathias Hubert Paul Cormann, Joe Hockey’s straight guy, interrupting Sunday lunch on ABC radio to explain to the nation that knowing nothing was the same as admitting nothing and the same as doing nothing when it came to his government’s knowing anything about paying people smugglers to turn their boat around and head back to Indonesia.
For information, Cormann implied, Australians must look not to their own government but to another nation. Don’t ask us. We are just running the country. Besides we do not comment on operational matters.
The fact that most of us, along with the rest of the world, have already heard report from an Indonesian police chief and other seemingly reputable sources just puts an extra gloss on this government’s veneer of transparency. Our vessels in the area have just become floating ATMs for those in the asylum seeker transport trade.
A little light relief for the nation came when Joe Hockey, the government’s funny money man observed that the best way to get a house was to get a well-paid job. It certainly worked for him. What also helped Joe were wealthy parents and marriage to a merchant banker. Aspiring home owners take note. The sun may be setting on sunrise Joe’s political career.
Speculation that Joe will really have to go over this gaffe is growing despite his PM’s defence and lame attempt, given his salary, to hose down the issue by posing as one of the ordinary folk of Australia who suffer to pay their mortgage. His attempt to rescue his feckless Treasurer is part of a side show in which the LNP pretends that we are all able to become as rich as they are if we work hard enough. Adherence to this pernicious myth increases the Abbott government’s irrelevance to average Australian lives.
What is also growing is the anxiety of those paying inflated prices for houses in Sydney and Melbourne where policies have helped foster a housing bubble. Despite some solid comment from the RBA’s Glenn Stevens and others who should know, the government seeks to deny that the bubble is happening, let alone take any steps to deal with it such as ending negative gearing or the provision of cheap accommodation.
There was much for Tony Abbott to account for last week but his contribution to responsible government may be summed up in his tilt at windmills on professional windbag and blatherskite Allan Jones’ talkback radio show. Abbott massaged his pal’s prejudices and those of their listeners by finding wind power generation ugly and something the government would be cutting back on were it not for that damned obstructionist senate.
With his recent cabinet coup, his carte blanche to do whatever floats your boat in international waters and his love of being a tough guy on terrorism, it led to an intimate rapport as Tony and Allan and the listeners could tell just how much better for us all it would be if we had a one party state and we just let Tony get on with it. All those greenies, progressives and human rights bicycle riders could just get out of the road.