Dead man walking: Abbott’s kamikaze week in politics.

dutton and abbott after gaffe

“It takes a good captain to help all the players of a team to excel.” Tony Abbott 31 January 2015

Tony Abbott’s ABC 7:30 Report interview with Leigh Sales, easily the worst in living memory for any serving Prime Minister, sets the high-water mark in a week in politics in which it becomes ‘crystal clear’ in PM-speak, that he and his government are not waving but drowning.

The government is awash all week; overwhelmed by opportunities. It is a week, flagged – as the glorious launch of our righteous crusade against evil in Syria yet it is a week in which a flat-footed PM loses his purchase, is swept up in a wave of refugee compassion and almost drowns when the refugee crisis throws the old boat-stopper a life preserver.

Abbott finds himself compelled by a rapidly rising international tide to seek some of the moral high ground it promises. He declares 12,000 Syrian refugees will be permanently resettled in Australia. Under pressure he rescinds his earlier decision to cut refugees from other countries and makes this an extra 12,000, unleashing an orgy of self-congratulation and false statistics from ministers keen to perpetrate the government lie that we are per capita the most generous refugee takers in the world.

UNHCR boffins will work out which batch of Syrians best suit his requirements. Syrian refugees on Nauru, Manus or on the mainland, however, will continue to rot in hell where they belong because of their deals with evil people smugglers. No word is spoken of forced repatriations to Syria ceasing.

Yet not even his conflicted, conditional ‘yes’ to more refugees, ‘ nor his stylish new combatant Andrew Hastie’s war on crystal meth in Canning can provide a lifeline to an Abbott government now totally out of its depth. Like the opposition leader, it is just treading water.

Sales offers Abbott a hand up. Calls on him to give an account of his leadership; his government’s achievements. A curiously flat as a tack Abbott is not up to it. Only his tin ear is working. He falls back on reprising old campaign slogans.  A narcoleptic trance overtakes him. He talks in his sleep about boats and carbon taxes; maunders about jobs and growth. Then Sales raises the PM’s record ever lower poll results; his ever rising unpopularity with voters.

Abbott awakes. His temper is bad. He peevishly attacks the ABC. Our national broadcaster ignores all his government’s good news. Sales is out of line. Abbott channels Dutton and Hockey from last week’s ABC-Fairfax jihadist bash.  The PM is so shockingly bad that Tony Windsor wonders aloud if Abbott has just given up.

The next day his old, superior, self is back only to have his toast fall butter side down. Abbott angers not only Pacific leaders but all indigenous peoples by laughing at their fate and their cultural view of time in response to Peter Dutton’s stupid quip about climate change.

Noting that Friday’s meeting on Syrian refugees is late to start, Dutton remarks snidely that it is running to ‘Cape York time,’ prompting our PM and man of the indigenous world Abbott to reply, ‘We had a bit of that up in Port Moresby’.

Add safari suits, pith helmets, monocles and behold! A club meeting of colonial masters laments the natives’ poor work ethic, commiserates over the thankless task of getting blacks to behave more like white men.  Abbott and co are the colonists’ white man’s burden writ large all over again.

Despite the millions spent on their pay, the PM’s minders let him down. They clearly fail to brief him that not every culture views the concept of time in the same way. Not that this would interest a politician with no ideas, nor time for any.  Perhaps he was looking at his watch. As he does. Not paying attention; needing to be somewhere else; on borrowed time.

Inspired, encouraged, Dutton adds, ‘time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to … have water lapping at your door’. Abbott laughs like a drain.

Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison then notices the open microphone bobbing over their heads. At least one of the time-wasters has his wits about him. Trust Morrison to keep a weather eye open.

Too late. The remark is widely condemned. It is another rebuff after Australia and New Zealand have just refused the islanders’ appeals to push for a 1.5 degree rise in global temperatures at the Pacific Islands Forum. It doesn’t help that Australian aid to the region has been cut to a 40 year low under Julie Bishop’s term as Foreign Minister, nor that after Budget cuts she was forced to break her promise of aid for Pacific women.

‘We thought there was some resistance to the science of climate change amongst our friends to the south, but we didn’t expect there would be that indifference to a matter of life and death for their neighbours,’ Marshall Islands Foreign Minister, Tony de Brum tells RTCC, a climate advocacy website.

Later Abbott, in full damage control, intervenes to praise his Immigration Minister repackaging Dutton’s humour as a ‘lame’ joke and diverting us by calling attention – look over here – to Dutton’s Syrian refugee miracle. Peter Dutton is now a mastermind of compassion.

It is quite a spin. Dutton is fresh from the forced repatriation of Syrians from detention on Manus Island back into a bloody civil war. On Sunday comes the news that the ‘mastermind’ has flexed his new muscle given him by the revised Migration Act to fly an asylum seeker charged with criminal offences straight to Christmas Island before his trial. But by then the tide of opinion has rapidly, irrevocably risen against the pair, their intolerance, and the ‘insidious soft racism of low expectations.’

An angry Cape York traditional owner Gerhardt Pearson says the reference to ‘Cape York time’ aims to portray Aboriginal people as ‘lazy good-for-nothings.’ ‘We are constantly burdened with the view espoused by the likes of Dutton; a … soft bigotry (which) continues to dominate policy responses.’

Captain Abbott’s bravura SNAFU performance is a master class in political public self-destruction which makes a fitting finale to a week in which the PM seeks points in tactical compassion by agreeing to accept 12,000 extra refugees from Syria only to lose by imposing terms and by wasting time.

The PM adds an expensive tension-building prologue by sending Dutton off to UNHCR HQ to find out if this Syrian refugee thing is real.  Perhaps it’s a shrewd investment. It gets one loose cannon off the poop deck for a few days.

The PM has a proviso. He chooses his words carefully. He speaks of ‘women, children, families, persecuted minorities.’ This means our soon-to-be-new-Australians must be neither male nor Muslim and must have never been in a boat. His tide of support sweeps out like a torrent races around a rock. Perhaps Biggles bombs Syria an Abbott new release will attract favourable review.

Bombs away could be a life saver. Abbott’s government believes it is on to a winner in ‘turning left out of Iraq’ as Air Chief Marshall Binskin puts our violation of Syrian air space, to bomb the evil death cult ISIS, a motley crew who will immediately abandon their practice of embedding themselves amidst innocent civilians and expose themselves in the open so our six vintage Hornets can bombard them with surgical precision leaving unscathed those homes, hospitals and schools as yet untouched by Assad’s barrel bombs or the Iraqi-captured weapons of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-styled Caliph of Islamic state.

Bombing will solve everything – especially Syria’s refugee crisis. We know from Vietnam how successful aerial bombardment is in a theatre of guerrilla war. Nothing, moreover, may halt the exodus of millions of terrified civilians, traumatised by years of civil war, better than a fresh new wave after wave of Aussie bombs exploding over their heads.

Logic plays little part in Abbott’s crusade against the infidel; his own war against evil. The real truth of our involvement must be kept from us. We are in Syria at the PM’s instigation, our first irrevocable step into a quagmire that will only require us to send more and more troops, a conflict which will be long, protracted and punishing.

Instead we are fed the official US line, a cut and paste of a Centrecom press release.

RAAF bombings will help us help ‘the Iraqi government’ degrade and destroy ISIS. Yet there is no Iraqi state left and not much in the way of a functioning government or military. The fall of Ramadi in March shows an ISIS which can quickly gain the upper hand in many a strategic battle.

In Ramadi, capital of the Anbar province and one of the biggest cities in Iraq, 150 ISIS troops were able to dispel 1500 Iraqi troops who fled on May 17 this year. US air support was unable to be of assistance to the Iraqis because it could not distinguish between Iraqi and ISIS forces intermingled in heavy combat.

It was not an isolated incident. Desertion is a logical consequence of an engagement by an army whose morale is low, whose function is imperilled by corruption and whose loyalties in a region beset with sectarian conflict are divided. Tens of thousands of desertions have the Iraqi military have created what one U.S. official describes as “psychological collapse” in the face of ISIS offensives.

We have gone to war as allies of an Iraqi army which runs away, a demoralised army at the service of a defeated rump of a corrupt and malfunctioning government, propped up by the US for strategic purposes. Yet we will not hear this from Tony Abbott’s or Kevin Andrews’ lips. Nowhere does our government acknowledge the realities of the recent rapid increase in Russian military assistance in all forms, from boots on the ground to air and naval support.

Nor is there any mention of Syria’s other long-term ally Iran which has recently also despatched soldiers to serve the cause of Bashar al Assad. Saudi armed forces are also a threat to be left out of the equation by a PM anxious to spin his own child-like mythology of the hunt for the evil Daesh.

Against this in a bizarre counterpoint, the language of the military normalizes and disguises barbaric cruelty and random acts of violence as in Air Commodore Bellingham’s report of our first sortie into Syria.  ‘The Hornets were also prepared for any short notice high priority tasking which could include surveillance and weapons release.’

The Australian Air Task Group will continue to plan and conduct strikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria as part of coalition strike operations aimed at disrupting and degrading Daesh strongholds, Bellingham says.

The PM parrots the US administration’s spin that ‘the coalition’ is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria. We are kept at arms’ length from real news of what is truly happening. Instead we are entertained by images of an RAAF Super Hornet on its first bombing raid into Syria.  Make that ‘weapons release,’ it sounds almost desirable.

Bombing will, of course, give Abbott something to brag about when he visits Canning on the weekend as well as a chance for the Canning Liberal candidate, former SAS Captain Andrew Hastie, to take a breather from his war of words on ice and his war with reporters wanting to know more about his creationist and anti-gay marriage beliefs. Once again, Hastie will remind voters that he is a former soldier. He knows what war is all about.

Being photographed with Hastie will boost the PM’s stocks, he reasons and divert questions about his leaked cabinet reshuffle, an IED of sorts, militarily speaking which he disavows utterly.

Just when things can’t get any worse, they become disastrous. The Daily Telegraph, an annexe of the Abbott government’s media office in Antony Albanese’s quip, claims that six ministers would go in a cabinet reshuffle planned by the PM to keep his government fresh and appealing to voters.

Is it a leak from the PMO designed to flush out leadership contenders? Joe Hockey’s name is not among the six to get the sack. Is it a leak by a contender?

Whoever leaks it, the report creates havoc. ‘It is like a hand grenade has gone off,’ a minister, clearly well into the military swing of a khaki election, tells ABC news. MPs see the leak as coming from the PMO. Coalition MPs regard The Daily Telegraph as their government gazette. Those tipped to be on the up are agitating; those tipped for the chop are – well, agitated or, as Tory Shepherd put it on ABC’s Insiders on Sunday, ‘pissed off.’ It is a disaster in anyone’s estimation. Even the government seems to know it.

A spill is on next week. Paul Bongiorno, who has good sources, claims the numbers are there for a spill. A spill will have to come before the Canning by-election because afterwards will smack of desperation. But not everyone is convinced of this. What is agreed is that Abbott is ‘a dead man walking’ as one of his ministers put it – off the record of course.

We are all waiting for Canning. A curious unreality settles over the political scene by the end of the week. We are at a Becket play, in a Becket play, a menacing world of pointless circularity in which:

‘Nothing happens. Nobody comes. Nobody goes. It’s awful.’

Throughout Waiting for Canning, time and who controls it plays a major role, as in climate change, cabinet reshuffle or the invasion of Syria. As Becket knew well, ‘the waiting is the hardest part …Not only is the waiting difficult, but working out what to do while waiting is difficult.’

In the meantime, our compassionate government provides an entertaining series of short film clips of our magnificent men in their flying machines dropping bombs on the evil Daesh death cult while innocent men, women and children scream in pain and in terror just off camera, out of frame.