Tag: Abbot

Abbott talks himself out of a job at Canberra Press Club today.

1 abbott press conf


OVER the summer, I’ve been talking to hundreds of Australians from all walks of life in the street, on the beach, in cafes, even at the pub; and I’ve been talking with my colleagues.

The PM began his over-hyped ‘do or die’ Canberra press club address today by making a folksy claim to have his finger on the national and political pulse: ‘over the summer I’ve been talking …,’ but his efforts were undercut by the key verb, ‘talking’. If Abbott wanted to reassure his audience, he would make at least some concession to listening. If he wanted to convince us he would feed back some of what he had learnt. Sometimes, the job is just too big for the man and as his talk proceeded, it became increasingly clear that Abbott’s self-set task of reassurance and redirection was too big for him, too big for one who prefers simple rhetoric, lazy cliché and bald assertion to any more persuasively advanced discourse. He talked at his audience for at least half an hour but by the end convinced few, as Chris Uhlman put it bluntly, that it would not be better if he just resigned.

Talking to people is not communication, unless you are prepared to listen and share. That means being equipped to listen. No matter how many times the PM may tell us that we have ‘won the lottery of life’ as he puts it in his schmaltzy empty phrase, because we are ‘free, fair and prosperous,’ Australians will need more convincing if they are to believe that his government’s increased surveillance and anti-terror and immigration law changes do not mean that he has increased the power of the state over the individual.  Above all, the poor, the needy, the unemployed, the underemployed including those long suffering Australians in remote and regional indigenous communities would be wondering what type of lottery they had won.

Abbott then sketched a global perspective as testing, tumultuous, troubled and one in which anything could happen: ‘expect the unexpected’ was his takeaway message. Here was a chance to commend Australians on their resilience or their capacity to support one another but instead he chose to shape his comments to make a case for a strong, protective government with the smarts to strengthen our economy. He repeated the tired old saw that only a Coalition government could deliver the government’s future. Would we have any future if the previous government, a Labor government had not been able to stimulate the economy to bring us through the GFC relatively unscathed? Will we have any future, moreover, if we continue to deny climate change, a key part of the future revealingly missing from his quick synopsis? As always his perspective was selective and defective in convincing detail.

There followed a lot of boilerplate rhetoric about a strong economy. Apparently a strong economy was something his LNP government was building as only his government could. Those thousands of workers who are now out of a job as a result of his axing of public service jobs would beg to differ. Those who watch the figures would be hard pressed to find a shred of evidence to support his case that he and his government was ‘growing the economy’. Almost every indicator from unemployment to business and consumer confidence points in the other direction.

Much as Abbott chose to claim his government was continuing to create more jobs, he ignored unemployment trends completely. Buckets of new jobs are no consolation if we have barrow-loads of jobs expiring or ceasing to be, such as those of advocacy service workers whose careers were terminated in a stroke of the government’s pen.  Or those who lost their jobs when the renewable energy sector copped a hiding from a government with an ideological commitment to coal.

All pundits agreed that to succeed his speech needed a new direction if not a bold new policy initiative. So where was it? Ten minutes into his speech there was but the vaguest outline. A new ‘families policy’ and a new ‘small business and jobs policy’ along with building roads seem to be the most detail we will get from the PM that he has anything at all planned to boost economic growth. If he had plans, he gave no detail. Yet, because he gave no detail, no one would be persuaded that these exist or that they would work.

Now came something else all too familiar, some Labor government bashing.  Under Labor, the PM intoned, government was spending too much; borrowing too much; and paying out too much dead money in interest alone. He had the rubbery figures to prove it. Abbott once again represented debt in nominal terms, a tactic he and his colleagues had done to death in the election campaign. Few are bluffed. Any reasonable, responsible view of debt as linked to GDP and government revenue shows we’re in pretty good shape, despite the Coalition’s scare tactics, tactics along with its broken promises which have so damaged its credibility that it has undermined its own legitimacy, a process which has further depressed business and consumer confidence.

Abbott, the ideological right wing economic dry then sloganeered about deficits, again in nominal terms and not in relation to increasing productivity. Overlooking his government’s practice in the Howard-Costello years he made the false claim:

‘We’ve never been a country that’s ripped off future generations to pay for today …’ this was rich coming form a member of a government which had entirely squandered the windfall of the resources boom on boosting its chances at the ballot box by offering tax reductions. Abbott (and his advisers) must assume that his audience has no memory.

The economy is stronger, the budget is improving and the jobs market has strengthened claimed the PM in Pollyanna fashion. His assertion is flatly contradicted by the evidence. Unemployment is up, growth is flat while confidence is down. Part of this is caused by the Abbott government, especially its scaremongering about fictive debt crises and its punitive cuts to struggling low-income families.

There followed reassurances about getting tough on terror with a swipe at Labor for reducing police and security agencies funding with no specifics. This was a dangerous ploy given that the bungled Sydney siege, a preventable action insofar as it was caused by a man who somehow fell off the radar despite his police record and a tragic event in which there are still unanswered questions about police tactics which caused the death of one innocent hostage remains fresh in everyone’s memory.

Abbott’s sycophantic streak was embellished under pressure when he ventured to embrace small business. His praise of the local merchant as a type of community benefactor and altruist was ideologically correct for the party faithful but gratingly at odds with reality in mixed company:

I admire people who take risks, have a go and employ others … If you’re a small business owner, it’s likely that you’ve mortgaged your home in order to invest, employ and serve the community.

Quite literally, you have put your economic life on the line for others…

What Abbott offered up to the Press Club today was just more of the same old rhetoric, the same old unconvincing claptrap. The need to please his backers eclipsed his capacity to even heed, let along answer his critics. Abbott had nothing substantial new to offer, apart from the well-leaked ‘news’ that his paid parental leave was ‘off the table’. Nowhere did the PM attempt to hold himself to account or confront in public his failure to meet expectations. Nor did he give any sign that he had the capacity to deliver on the trust, the hopes that others had placed in him. He stood today, facing the end of his career, a tin pot general of open market ideology whose ambition and capacity to attack conferred a premature and undeserved image of competence and depth that now was well and truly shattered.

Abbott’s Captain’s call a Titanic disaster at Press Club today.

Abbott pensive but incapable of real reflection.
Abbott pensive but incapable of real reflection.

… it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.                                                                                                                              Edmund Burke 1774

Tony Abbott has declared himself ‘a very good captain’ of his Government’s team, after weathering a blistering tsunami of criticism, derision and withering contempt following his recent bizarre decision to confer an Australian Knighthood upon his Royal Highness, the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. All hell broke loose, according to most observers, partly because of Abbott’s bad decision itself but mostly because it was the last belaying pin of the breech ropes on a very loose cannon finally, irretrievably coming adrift. For Abbott himself, it was merely ‘a bit of a rough patch’ and a ‘stuff up’; and all he needed to do was to apologise and entrust choice of awards recipients to a committee. It did not seem to enter Abbott’s head that ‘a very good captain’ is defined by his very good decisions.

Unexpected as it was unwelcome by either recipient or electorate, Abbott’s ‘dub-up stuff-up’ was, however, perfectly timed to become a hot topic in Australia Day barbeque settings around the nation as Australians of all persuasions digested this latest captain’s folly while turning well-nitrated snags, chops, steaks, kebabs, prawns and other such burnt offerings as tong-wielding men will fiddle around a griddle while quickly getting pissed and opinionated. Yet while backyard blowhards blew their bags few could be heard backing Abbott’s captain’s pick and none at all upheld the PM’s decision as evidence for his being ‘a very good captain.’

Abbott’s latest desperate boast has pundits scratching their heads and wondering how any sane person could confuse the Abbott brand of leadership with ‘very good captaincy’. No-one, in his or her right mind could. Unless, perhaps, you see Abbott as an anti-captain, an alienated, inarticulate, bewildered, existential hero in the changing Australian political narrative; a story which since The Dismissal of Whitlam has ‘moved forward’ from epic to ironic. In this perspective, Abbott is a product of the times, a cynical caricature of the qualities of commitment, judgement and enlightened conscience as set down by Edmund Burke, a leader in words and deeds, whom, ironically, Abbott felt he could quote with a straight face in his Press Club appearance today.

Or could he just be mad, bad and easily confused? Or both?   Whatever the cause, it is hardly the first time Abbott, the pathological gaffer, has seemingly been so overwhelmed by opportunity that he has come up with something so wrong and so stupid that he has taken everyone by surprise.

Abbott’s political career has been characterised by many sensational lapses of judgement, including his decision in 2010 to publicly inform the nation of his natural tendency towards mendacity during ABC TV’s 7:30 report. The then Opposition Leader astonished the nation when he said his only utterances that should be regarded as ”gospel truth” were carefully prepared and scripted remarks such as those made during speeches or policy pronouncements. Otherwise, statements he made during the ‘heat of discussion’ such as radio interviews or under questioning at press conferences, were not necessarily reliable.

Given this context, the immediate reaction of most who heard of Abbott’s lunatic decision to knight the Duke, a less than chivalric type by nature and a curmudgeon by design were about to laugh it off. Abbott had misspoken; he was misreported; he was making a joke. It was another gaffe or another outburst of Abbott madness. When it became clear it was ‘gospel truth’, this was quickly followed by an angry incredulity in which Australians wondered aloud at their Prime Minister’s alarming stupidity and lack of judgement. Many saw his action as suicidal, a ritual hari-kari with the dull edge of the ceremonial sword of the accolade.

So strong, indeed, appeared the kamikaze element in his indecorous over-decoration of Philip in what he claims was his own decision, a captain’s call that reporters immediately began to canvass other contenders for the position of Prime Minister. Some such as the colourful ‘side-show’ Mal Brough (so called because everywhere he went as NT minister there was a circus) were said to be preening their own feathers before a run from the backbench. Or there was a frisson of interest reported between Turnbull and Bishop, provided each put the other first.

Others, including anti-knight-errant Rupert Murdoch sought to scapegoat the PM’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, on whom, it was felt, a great deal could be blamed, given that she was Abbott’s eminence grise and given that she was a woman. Blame the sheila, was Murdoch’s advice to anyone not paid to listen confirming that whilst Rupert may have renounced his Australian citizenship to become an American, he was still a true blue unreconstructed Aussie male chauvinist when it mattered.

Abbott would have none of this. He claimed his move was prompted by a desire to acknowledge all the very many good things that Philip had done for all Australians, and that it was all his own idea, a decision taken without consultation or any real advice, although he did profess to have confided in another knighthood recipient, the retired Air Chief Marshall Sir Angus Houston and model of Olympian detachment and to the Governor General. In essence, however, it was all his own, a captain’s call or a captain’s pick. And as furious dissension reached white heat, in another flurry of preposterous waffling, he reminded us all of his high opinion of his own leadership. He was one hell of a captain. Or at least, ‘a very good captain’.

 “This is a very strong team,” he said. “And one of the reasons why so many members of the team are able to perform so well is because they’ve got a very good captain.

So there we have it: Abbott’s most recent Captain’s call has been to remind the nation of his captaincy. Whilst Abbott’s latest act of naked self-promotion may seem immodest, presumptuous and inappropriate, it also reveals the extent of his desperation to cling to some vestige of power. OK, he is saying, the knighthood for the Duke was a stuff up but I really am a top captain. Just look at my team. Let’s not waste time navel gazing; reflection and introspection are only for wimps; real men apologise for ‘the stuff up’ and move on.

Unfortunately, Mr Abbott, the nation is looking at no-one else but you thanks to your stuff-ups. You have guaranteed its full and undivided attention. The nation is wondering what mistake could be next. You have control of a fair bit of firepower and a track record of preferring to shoot from the hip and apologise after. And even an average captain would never have made the Prince Philip knighthood call. And looking at the team only makes it worse.

Attempting to take credit from a team which no-one in their wildest dreams would call a dream team Mr Abbott gets you even further into trouble. Your nightmare team has done so little to take credit for that your call can only be ironic. Your own captaincy remains even less illustrious as was revealed when you bestrode the stage of the National Press Club today like some bad parody of a modern political colossus.

All eyes were on you to make the speech of your life. In the end it was a rehash, a warmed over repeat of the same mindless platitudes, the vapid, empty slogans that got you into trouble in the first place. You showed the nation once and for all the job was too big for the man. It wasn’t a resignation speech in your mind, perhaps, but it served the same purpose. If ever a captain’s call were called for this was the time and place. In the end it wasn’t a captain’s call or even a decent speech but merely a reprise of the same turgid, clapped-out rhetoric of the campaign stump. Only in this case, time has moved on, Mr Abbott; the tide has run out and left you stranded, high and dry, however much you wave your arms or flap your gums.

Carry on, cartoonists, urges Tony Abbott after Charlie Hebdo attack.

abbott and microphones

Australia’s PM with his supportive media.


Australia’s army of parodists, satirists and professional piss-takers, the nation’s cartoonists, have been told to carry on. Terrified and shocked by events overseas, on the point of drawing the line at any more funny business and laying down their pencils, en masse, the nation’s lampooning doodlers have bucked up to hear words of encouragement from the top. And in such a good cause or two: our way of life is at stake. We are as nothing without corrective irony, parody or self-ridicule. Freedom of speech, moreover, is something we hold dear; central to the way we carry on. Or so we are told, from most unexpected quarter, or cartouche.

Oddly, the satirists’ rallying cry is being made by Australia’s PM, Tony, Abbott, a caricaturist’s dream, a political figure easily mistaken for a parody of a PM, or a parody of himself, or both. Not renowned for enjoying or appreciating criticism and fronting a LNP government which is at best economical with freedom of expression and truth, to say nothing of justice, tolerance and compassion, qualities informing every satirist’s bite, the PM has leapt into the fray.

Yesterday, the PM, a talented contortionist and ever-obliging target himself, the butt of a thousand gibes was urging us to give ’em hell with bells on. Loony Toons Abbott morphed into the mouse that roared: a mouse exhorting all the neighbourhood cats to sharpen their claws.

In yet another unexpected twist to his contorted career, the PM burst on to Channel 9 to the amazement of jaded, hung-over morning television viewers and cracked up the nation with a message straight to camera. Cartoonists carry on! The terrorists will win if you stop. And there was more. With the injunction came insight; he knew, he confided, all too well, what it is like to be a member of a persecuted minority, the object of satire: people are always making fun of Catholics in Australia.

Abbott’s babblings were prompted by the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical Paris newspaper in which two gunmen brutally executed ten staff members and injured eleven others, some of them critically on Thursday morning in apparent retaliation for the paper’s pungently satirical comments on Islam. Curiously, they echoed David Cameron’s despite their religious differences, differences on climate change and other matters. Doubtless, similar sentiments could be traced in the addresses of a group of national leaders whose talking points are lovingly hand-prepared in Washington.

Whatever his intention, or the true origin of his inspiration, Tony Abbott captured every satirist’s imagination with his latest hypocritical posturing, beginning with his TV appearance itself.

Others in his cabinet may wait weeks, or even longer, to talk to the media but the PM gets his head on the box any time he feels like it. One of his first initiatives in government and, yes, the word is to be used cautiously, was to control communications. His own ministers and hapless members of his government have to line up like the scene in Oliver to get permission to exercise any freedom of expression that might involve talking to the people. All media requests must be approved by a member of the Prime Minister’s staff, aka Peta Credlin.

Yet the same PM can air his thought bubbles and spray his talking points at us with barely a moment’s notice, as he did on national television yesterday. Indeed, he is able to over-share, as his wont; the reason he needs a minder on every occasion and doubtless the reason the party dominatrix Peta Credlin must accompany him everywhere.

Other ironies abound. Whilst the office of the prime minister has divided the media into friends and enemies and whilst Abbott himself is openly critical of criticism of the government by the ABC, an outfit he would love to privatise, he rushed to pose as a defender of free speech stating:

‘…it’s important there be no self-censorship by Australian media in the wake of yesterday’s terrorist attack in Paris.’ No doubt this thought vastly relieved Australian cartoonists who are by nature an unctuous and dependent breed, constantly seeking approval and instruction from the top. Whom did the PM think he was trying to kid?  He may be able to tie himself in knots but cartoonists, satirists are not about to follow.

Losing no time either in gleefully cranking up popular fear and anxiety, Abbott warned that ‘the world should be braced for more terrorist attacks.’

Just what form this bracing should take was not specified, although the term is used frequently in press releases and talking points constructed by his office. Nor would the PM elaborate on the reasons for our national bracing and whether he meant he expected more terrorist attacks in Australia. Yet even as the lion of truth he was forthcoming in constructing falsehood. He proceeded to link Paris and Martin Place:

The attack in Paris was relatively sophisticated. The attacks in Australia have been relatively unsophisticated. But whether these are, if you like, grass roots terrorism or whether they’re organisational terrorism, the fact is it is still a terrorist attack on us, on our way of life.

The PM began to sound like a veteran commentator and we, his people, veterans of terrorist attacks who would all the more clearly see that our way of life was threatened, conveniently feeding the pernicious myth of conformity and clouding our sense of our rich and vital diversity. This is a consistent line of Abbott’s which, it seems, he shares with other western leaders who, television ‘world news’ clearly showed, subscribed to the same script service and were taking similar liberties with their own peoples amounts to a dangerous myth-making which helps to divide our society and to promote the ignorance, the intolerance, hysteria and fear which enable terrorism in the first place.  It is also, of course, a most useful proposition in the construction of Abbott as our public defender and a generic nostrum for conservative leaders the world over. It times of crisis, moreover, it is hoped we will unite behind the strong leader.

Of course, the intolerance and ignorance is just a fact of modern life, according to the PM but with a twist. There may well be a contortionist’s prize for holding a view in which we are seen to welcome all sorts of minorities and the roots of our current immigration policy, for example. Or the cognitive dissonance in the hardened certainty of the phrase ‘absolutely hate’ and the cosy inner self-deluded glow of undifferentiated multicultural acceptance; our pluralism.

And the sad truth of the modern era is that there are people who hate us, not because of anything that we’ve done but because of who we are and the way we live. They hate our tolerance, our pluralism, the welcome that we provide to all sorts of minorities. It’s an essential part of Western civilisation and it’s the thing about us that these people absolutely hate.

Interrupting if not arresting the PM’s drift towards a hard-edged soft focused generality, a servile Channel 9 interviewer offered his neck, begging correction, asking the already contorted Abbott how much freedom the press should give up to make us all safer:

TIM MCMILLAN: how far should Australian media outlets go when satirising religions or minority groups?

Abbott invoked his own experiences as a member of a persecuted minority, perhaps knowing of the value of bogus identification in propaganda:

Australian media organisations don’t normally hold back when for argument’s sake they’re criticising Christianity. Catholicism comes in for a particular dose of scorn.

We will take that as encouragement that we are not to hold back. Wittering scorn, however, was invited on this occasion, if not earned by his concluding paradoxical homily:

It’s very important, two things here: first of all that we don’t engage in self-censorship as a result of this kind of attack. Second and even more important, we should not stop being ourselves because of this kind of attack.

If we do engage in self-censorship, if we do change the way we live and the way we think, that gives terrorists a victory and the last thing that we should do is give these evil fanatics any kind of victory.

Abbott has once again used the news to inflict his own agenda upon us. He peddles his own bigoted post-modern mythos of Manichean struggle between good and evil. He would have us in a straitjacket of fear and beholden to the leader as protector, yielding freely up our metadata, our privacy, our right to know the truth and other democratic rights, yet carrying on as normal as his far right government strengthens the role of the state in a desperate attempt to shore up its shaky foundations. Endless conflicted and compromised, he cranks the hurdy-gurdy of the rhetoric of freedom and freedom of speech while his government systematically goes about undermining its very foundations.

Abbott’s moonlight flit to Iraq, leaves home fires burning.

abbott talks to military in Iraq

A spokesman for Mr Abbott blamed security for keeping the media off the trip. “Due to security measures, there was very limited capacity to facilitate any movements of Australian media in Baghdad and the international zone during the Prime Minister’s visit yesterday,” he said.

“The PM’s office did attempt to obtain the necessary approvals for media but it wasn’t possible for this visit to Baghdad.

“Any suggestion the Prime Minister’s office ‘excluded media’ is patently untrue.”


Australian politics took an intriguingly mysterious turn recently when Tony Abbott slipped out of Australia on his own top secret mission to Iraq without telling anybody. It was all very hush-hush, so cloak and dagger that he could brief no-one, not even Tony’s Turd Polishers, his own media unit. Peta Credlin remained under the radar. Australians had to learn from Iraq what their PM was up to.

Masterfully, the PM also excluded the Australian media crew on standby in Dubai, permitting no independent footage to be garnered and ensuring no Australian journalists popped up with awkward questions. This also, however, guaranteed him a hostile domestic reception on his return and damaging questions about censorship and the breaking of promises he had previously made to the reporters stationed in Dubai.

Abbott’s mission was a minefield of awkward questions he typically thought best to side-step.

Questions thronged thickly around Abbott’s mutual morale-boosting joint appearance with Iraqi counterpart, US puppet Haider al-Abadi, another impotent ‘Prime Minister’ who recently announced the discovery of 50,000 ‘ghost soldiers’ on the Iraqi payroll. Although no one knows how many Iraqi soldiers are being paid but not turning up to duty, this was a reality shock for Albadi, matched only by his discovery after his dodgy election that no Iraqi has the slightest interest in taking him seriously and that his power is proscribed by Shiite militias and their political counterparts embedded in his corrupt and failing government. He was there to pocket US dollars and follow instructions.

Other pressing questions avoided for the meantime included: what on earth is Australia doing propping up an American stooge, a prime minister in name only who is presiding over a hopelessly corrupt regime which condones death squads and other acts of terror against Sunni civilians? What purpose is served in propping up an illegitimate puppet who has little real authority over an Iraq which exists now in name only?

Why are we now talking of increasing our troop deployment? The PM announced that he doesn’t rule out committing more troops to Iraq yet he said he had no intention of committing ground troops two months ago? Why has Abbott come out and criticised the US for the hash it made of rebuilding Iraq?

Questions out of the way, Wing (nut) Commander Abbott made his dash. His political career in freefall, Abbott, kitted out in a bomber jacket, activated Plan B for Baghdad, scrambling himself, his eternally brunette Ken Doll, Defence Minister, Kevin Andrews, who was to pretend for the first time in his life to have any remote interest in the military, and a News Corp camera crew and the odd photographer. The chief of defence, Air Chief Marshall, Mark Binskin was also on board to add credibility to official Australian propaganda photographs.  It was also thought it might be handy to have someone who could shoot back should the mission come under fire at any point.

Pausing only as long as it took to tuck $5 million dollars into one flying boot and to flash a two-fingered victory sign at a flabbergasted but grounded Bishop from the cockpit, Abbott stole away at the crack of dawn.

Abruptly, unkindly left behind to keep the home fires burning and to front the nation’s TV cameras entirely un-briefed, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop flapped about like a stranded guppy. The Princess Mesothelioma was forced to fall back on her native wit and intuition, an excruciating situation for both herself and the nation. She was asked what PM thought he was up to.

Vamping whilst running one hand through her own exquisitely gamin styled coiffure, Bishop raised an eyebrow whilst she inspected the immaculate nails of her other hand. She supposed, she said airily, the PM knew what he was doing but it was not for her to second-guess Mr Abbott on yet another vital mission (abortive PR stunt) but if she’d known they were going to be keeping up appearances, she’d have let them borrow her spare hair-dryer and a bit of eye-liner and some lippy. (Julie and Kev often swapped beauty routine tips, like keeping on top of your grey roots and how it was vital not to let oneself go.)

After she had downed the odd glass of bubbly, Foreign Minister Bishop seized her opportunity and issued statements contradicting the PM’s lie that he was invited by the Iraqi government. Abbott said we would fight in Iraq to stop ISIL coming to Australia. Bishop said she didn’t know what he was talking about; ‘no request has been received,’ she said implying that he didn’t know either.

Abbott knew exactly what he was doing. Like a rat deserting a sinking ship of state, he fled Australia, prudently choosing not to help out local fire fighters in Victoria or South Australia lest his presence provoke spontaneous outbreaks of bomb-throwing, shirt-fronting, booing or other hostile popular reactions such as might compromise his personal safety. He would visit when all danger was safely past. Besides, he reasoned to no-one in particular, the National Interest didn’t look after itself and was known to take unkindly to neglect. And fires are dangerous.

Whilst being burnt alive is not always a negative career move, Abbott’s handlers discouraged the martyrdom option, richly attractive as it may now appear to the condemned PM and advised him to shun public places, for as long as possible, at least on the domestic front. The PM’s popularity is now lower than a snake’s prolapsed belly, so low, indeed, that these days that his diary is full of people, dates and places to avoid, such as the recently announced Queensland state election, the entire studio complex at 2GB and everyone at the ABC except for Lee Sales and any others Mark Simkin says is OK.

Abbott’s clandestine, ‘Black Ops’, top secret sortie was a fully-fledged ripping yarn fit for the pages of a Biggles’ story, The White Fokker, perhaps. His staff, such as remained after his latest PMO ‘reforms’, sworn to secrecy, remained tight-lipped and would only allude to ‘pressing security reasons’ for keeping the trip top secret. Just as it was a matter of national security preventing any explanation why the media were excluded. The National Interest was not invoked but it stood close by expecting a salute.

Secrecy, of course feeds speculation and rumour. Imagine the vital productivity lost to the nation were it to be known in advance that the PM had left to visit another dangerous world trouble-spot. Millions would take the week off work to celebrate. Eric Abetz, George Brandis and the IPA would instantly draft legislation prohibiting time off except on statutory holidays and Clive Palmer would be talked around to supporting it because it would further cheapen the cost of his own large labour force. Joe Hockey could weigh in with a sensitive ‘poor people don’t take holidays because they don’t own cars.’ Hunt could claim that the windfall of the repeal of the carbon tax ensured that all families could afford expensive luxury cruises. And so it would continue.

Imagine, Warren Entsch would wag his finger, the explosion in violence from home-grown and imported mental defectives and other ‘Jihadist terrorists’, who might exploit the Great Helmsman Abbott’s absence from Australia and run amok, following the spin-doctors’ thoughtfully provided script.

Others may argue that the PM was on hand in Sydney at our last ‘brush with terror’, for all the good it did. All that could be said was the lame argument that Abbott had strapped his buckler on to deal with the main threat at its source and that mouthing platitudes about ISIS being evil in Iraq would eliminate entirely any further domestic terror brushes.

The truth is both complex and prosaic. Abbott needed a boost, and Haider Al-Abdadi, our man in Baghdad, needed at least one other friend in the world. Baghdad is on hand to offer Abbott peer support from other like-minded cronies, other similarly scurrilous, self-interested, discredited merchants of mendacity who will happily laugh long at your jokes until your money runs out.

Abbott, moreover, has much in common with the Iraqi PM, including an embarrassing British citizenship, a capacity for self-delusion, political impotence and a disturbing lack of popular support.

Baghdad, home of the Arabian Nights, is a post-modern fabulist’s paradise, and may take out top honours this year as bullshit capital of the world, although the title is always keenly contested. Canberra, itself, of course, boasts some cred in this area. What richer setting then to repeat the nonsense that Australia is in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government? What more fertile site to reiterate the Abbott crusade against evil? Against the ‘death-cult ISIS? Where better to wear one’s new bomber jacket?

Modern Baghdad, a collective delusion, in the same way that the entire state of Iraq is a convenient fiction, exists almost solely in the minds of those vested interests whom it suits to support its existence. The perfect home away from home for any compulsive liar with quasi-military aspirations and in bed with Big Oil, Halliburton and multinational capitalists, Baghdad appeals greatly to Abbott, but this alone does not explain his trip. Nor does mingling with kindred spirits.

Whilst Abbott has, indeed, been bonding with his peers, a select group comprising other hopelessly ineffectual leaders of another morally bankrupt regime on the brink of extinction, the flying visit was wholly for domestic consumption. The PM is hoping to show his own nation, if not himself, that he is still a vital force. It pays to have as few observers as possible in case anyone starts laughing.

Abbott is counting on a visit to Iraq injecting a little special something into his flaccid career. He is desperate to stem his rocketing disapproval. He wants to give the old action PM routine another spin, this time, as before repeating the palpable lie that Australians are much safer at home if we attack Iraqis overseas. All we need do is ‘knock off’ ISIS in Iraq and we will all be so much safer in our beds in Sydney. And we are morally obliged to help Iraqis take up arms in the fight against evil ISIS.

So far the visit has been an incredible runaway success: Abbott has also been able to slip A$5 million in ready cash into an eager Iraqi palm. Such a piddling amount is likely to be punted away in a night at a Baghdad casino but it proves that Abbott is right on the money when it comes to making the right sorts of gestures.

Abbott’s junket also got him away from having to answer embarrassing questions about why he lied about renouncing his British citizenship. A document search obtained under FOI indicates that there was no renunciation from Tony aka ‘The Great Prevaricator’ Abbott. It looks serious. The Australian Constitution will not allow any Australian who holds dual citizenship to be Prime Minister, but a quick dash to Iraq buys Abbott a distractor if not a bit of thinking time as well as offering priceless photo-opportunities with the boys (and girls) and other opportunities to pose as a world statesman, even if he can’t give our troops a decent pay rise any more than he can be honest with the Australian people about his intention to increase our troop numbers in Iraq or the fact that he is still a British citizen and constitutionally prohibited from being Australia’s Prime Minister.

Tony Abbott’s New Year Resolutions

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Dear Mr Abbott,

Commiserations. Wish we could wish you a happy new year. We can’t. it won’t wash. Everything’s against it. Rupert’s rubbished you. Bolt’s become a blistering barnacle. Even lame, tame, Piers ‘party parrot’ Akerman is on the attack. The economy is nose-diving. Unemployment soars. Export receipts are plummeting. A plunging oil price threatens international capital and world financial stability. Balancing the budget? Even Joe Sooky concedes that you will break that promise too.

It’s not as if you’ve been doing nothing, as you say. You’re busier than a cat watching two rat-holes: with your neo-liberal tea party attacks on welfare, your trashing of the environment, your scorning of climate science, (and most other science), and your persecuting of refugees; your assaults on the elderly, the frail and the needy.

Meanwhile cyborg Employment Minister Eric Abetz, another 1950s throwback, readies Work-Choices off-stage and there will be hell to pay when that cat is debagged. But nothing much has come to anything; really achieved anything you wanted, or like yourself, will ever amount to much. So much on; so little to show.

So here’s a New Year’s resolution or two, just in case you don’t get time to do your own. Like talking points, really. You’ll get the hang of it. But first, a word in your ear.

Prime Minister, there is no nice way of putting this. You are beyond saving. Beyond redemption. No resolution will help you hang on to power, get re-elected or ever be trusted but it might tide you over until the end. The end is certain, whether you are wiped out in the next election, or you are impaled on Peta Credlin’s size 11 stiletto heel, you skewer yourself on a sharpened bicycle spoke, or you are lost in the surf at Portsea. You are going nowhere, and it shows.

In the meantime, here are a few tips. It’s not all positive, Mr Abbott, but it can’t be helped. There’s so much you must cut out.  Let’s start with ‘getting the message out.’

Stop parroting ‘ we must get the message out’. The message is out. Australians get you loud and clear: we just don’t like what we see and hear. Messaging, moreover, cuts both ways and you can’t speak out, reach out without first listening in. Your empty ‘messages’ are nothing but hollow reminders of your lack of credibility. Moreover, they waste time and energy. Beyond your spin cycle, your real messages are your words and deeds. Time to stop spinning, tune in and listen.

You are reactionary, backward-looking, ill-prepared and unfit to govern. That’s the message you convey. You can’t get away from it. The bad news, for you, is that voters get this message loud and clear. The good news is this leaves you a fair bit to work on.  Start by stepping out of the past.

Revering the past, continually referencing the past, just confirms you as yesterday’s man. Stop reminding us Howard faced adversity, too.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Your love affair with a mythical past signals an incapacity to deal with the present. Mention Menzies or hark back to Howard and you only earn yourself further derision for your presumption.  False analogies and parallels are dangerous. They make you look fat-headed and trapped in the past. Snap out of it. If you can’t face the future, at least look as if you know you need to focus on the present. Above all you need vision. Step up, stand out from your backward-looking, reactionary and regressive ministry. None of them can do anything but pull you down further like the undertow in the Portsea pier to pub in January.

Nostalgia saps your mindset, your weltanschauung, your shtick. ‘Turn back the clock’ might as well be your party slogan. You yearn for a 1950s Camelot ruled by Ming and Santamaria. You dream of a stable, comfortable, Australia of order and propriety. It never existed. It’s a wife in the kitchen, children in bed, slippers by the fire and pipe-dream, a fabrication based on myth and falsehood. More to the point, it is a dangerous delusion and a retreat from reality. Let’s get real about the 50s.

In the 1950s an intolerant, hypocritical, narrow society stifled individuality and oppressed difference. It was a racist, xenophobic, White Australia of privilege and entitlement ruled by Anglophile white males. No time to be a woman, or an ethnic minority, it was also an era of defensive nationalism in the face of new contact with outsiders; a time of acute cultural cringing and low national self-esteem. For many if not most, it was to be endured, suffered rather than celebrated or venerated. You want to put a bit of distance between yourself and the 50s.

Unfairness has hurt you most. The Australian people have long lost tolerance for you and your government. Your behaviour is unfair, reactionary, autocratic, anachronistic, backward-looking, untrustworthy and dishonest. You are gaffe-prone. You conspicuously lack what it takes to govern modern Australia, a diverse multicultural modern nation.  You lack independence, initiative and vision. You are putty in the hands of big business and big capital but you oppose anything which helps ordinary people.

You were quick to repeal the mining tax for your mate Gina Reinhart. But you are happy to raise the petrol excise and the cost of doctor’s visits for ordinary Australians. You have let Hockey go soft on his promise to chase multinationals who evade tax. It was too good to be true anyway. Hockey took the opposite position when in opposition. But you step up your spending on chasing dole frauds. You cut funds for the homeless. You oppose anything progressive like renewable energy or public transport on principle whilst you indulge reactionary movements like the world family congress and vested interests in your fantasy that you can turn back the clock. Take your sneaky back door re-introduction of Work Choices, for example.  Last week Eric Abetz crowed that he had “neutralised” Work Choices. He means it is far enough in the past for it to have faded in the public’s consciousness. And even despite your witch hunting Royal Commission into the unions, Work Choices will prove a dead parrot. Work Choices didn’t work under Howard and won’t work now. Economists will tell you low wages do not build GDP. And even if it’s a hit with your mates, your wealthy backers, it signals ‘mean and out of touch’.

Both of your two main achievements have been negative and both have helped us to hate you. You repealed a tax on carbon, a backward step which not only shrank budget revenue, it left us with no climate change policy and out of step with the rest of the world. You lied about its benefits to families. Despite your desperate spin, the carbon tax repeal has not lowered prices. But you continue to pretend that we are all $500 better off. Stop it.

Persecuting asylum seekers might stop some boats but it undoes a lot of good. And there are fewer votes in stopping the boats under Morrison than you count on. Time to stop. OK, you inherited the shameful off-shore detention camps but your boat turn-backs, your enhanced processing and all the cruelty revealed signals that you have taken persecution to extremes. It is cruel, covert and wrong. It flouts all decent principles of behaviour and thumbs its nose at the law. It screams inhumanity. It ignores our international commitments. There is a strange, disturbing zeal to it all, moreover, of loss of reason, sanity and plain good nature. Back up. Scrap the policy. Embrace humanity and honour our global responsibilities.

Granny- bashing, handbag-snatching is your real forte. It is, own up. You target defenceless groups, which are too weak and disorganised, unlike the miners, to fight back. You destroy their advocacy groups, silencing those who keep guard over a fair and decent society, groups who might challenge you or voice protest. You rob children of their futures by snatching environmental groups’ funding. You put a stranglehold on social, educational, health, research and advisory bodies. Any government which behaves in this way signals its own demise. People will reject you to protect themselves and the vulnerable. Any so-called savings in the area of welfare spending will cost you dearly.

Porting Australia into the past is future-proofing in reverse. It creates anxiety and a massive lack of confidence. You have declared open season on anything environmental, from laws to organisations. Your achievement amounts to wrecking anything enlightened or progressive whilst you venerate yesterday’s mistakes with your championing of coal. You lie about damage to the Barrier Reef.

Ask yourself: what have you really achieved? This question comes before claiming victory in fields, such as the economy being on the right track, when it is self-evidently a rout. So much of your media releases, your claims of victory contradict the population’s own perceptions. Much of what your ministers and spin doctors utter has the same theme: but you’re wrong you know. Putting a false spin on your ‘achievements’ just makes you sound more dishonest, for example, the talking point about a strong economy. You talked it down. Your spending weakened it. Cut the spin. You can’t polish a turd without getting smeared in ordure yourself.

Cut the talking points. Your ministers are hard enough to listen to without having to endure endless repeats of empty, meaningless slogans every day. Your communications unit is no better than a galah if all it can do is get you to parrot clichés, slogans and banal talking points. First up it would be listening. Communication is a two way process, Mr Abbott. It is as much about taking messages on board as getting messages out. And you can’t simply relay the interests of other lobby groups such as the IPA, the Sydney Institute and others in the pay of vested interests.

Kick the IPA out of bed. It is funded by yesterday’s interests, mining and fossil fuels. And you let it keep details secret. How about requiring advisory boards, institutes, groups and agencies to provide clear details of their sponsors?

Mr Abbott, these New Year’s resolutions are tough medicine but you have so often told us you are up for it.  Your choice is clear. Either continue on your current disastrous course and steam straight into the iceberg of ignorance. (There won’t be many to rescue from the wreck.) Or you can take stock. Stop what isn’t working. Start listening. It’s too late to save your own career but it’s just possible that you may lessen the wreckage and destruction you inflict on the nation.

Resignation: Abbott’s most significant achievement for women.

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(The Prime Minister) told Channel Nine’s Lisa Wilkinson that when it comes to women, it’s very important his government does the right thing by families.

“Women are particularly focused on the household budget and the repeal of the carbon tax means a $550 benefit for the average family,” he said.

Abbott also pushed the paid parental leave scheme he said he’s still committed to in 2015 – a policy that will now be managed by incoming Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison, along with childcare and our welfare system.

Women of Australia are overwhelmed with gratitude. They are singing and dancing in the streets. Tears of joy are shed amidst the laughter. A great clapping of hands, shouting of ‘bravo’, ‘jolly good show’ and other expressions of joyous approbation sweep the nation in a spontaneous, tumultuous outpouring of thanks for the achievements of Prime Minister Tony Abbott in his repeal of the carbon tax. The repeal of the carbon tax, was his main achievement, as he put it, modestly, on breakfast television last week, in his role as Minister for Women.

Women embrace ecstatically.  Gone forever are the dark clouds of doubt and despair over inequality, injustice and oppression. Glass ceilings lie in shards all over boardroom tables throughout the land. Employers, unchained from carbon taxing, rush to pay women equally. Banished is the dreadful spectre of the throwbacks back in charge; the re-emergence of the arrogant, indifferent and cruel boys’ club of the patriarchy that ruled Australia in the 1950s.  There is hope in every woman’s heart. All this and a PPL, too! For there is no carbon tax to pay.

And the PPL, of course, the PM repeated, stalling, hearing no prompt on his ear-piece to Peta. He stared down the camera, looking vainly for an auto-cue, insulting and overlooking every woman who was not, nor was ever to become a mother. Of, course, naturally, there is our Paid Parental Leave; even if it doesn’t quite exist as yet; even if it is unlikely to ever be enacted. Even if the experts say it won’t work. That hasn’t prevented us from counting it in. Just the opposite. He grinned.

Just look at MYEFO. Just look at how we rigged the bottom line by including the GP co-payment and other payments we had yet to get through the Senate. But it wasn’t easy! The so-called experts were against me again, of course.

Here the Prime Minister laughed as if ‘expert’ were a dirty word along with ‘scientist’ and ‘feminist’ in his government and he were naturally averse to any advice save his own and the sound of others agreeing with it. It didn’t pay to dwell on issues. In a post-modern world everyone was his own expert. Truth, in the end, always boiled down to a simple, black and white formulation you could fit on a bumper sticker.

Take the Productivity Commission 2009 Report on Paid Maternity, Paternity and Parental Leave. What would they know? Pack of experts! Pack of eggheads, couldn’t even park a bicycle straight. They argued for flat rate payments, rather than the income replacement we are offering. They claimed ”the labour supply effects would be greatest for lower-income, less-skilled women, those most responsive to wage subsidies and least likely to have privately negotiated paid parental leave”.  He shuddered.

But, you know, these theorists. He winked. Hippy-trippy, tree-hugging, beardy-weirdy, love-everyone do-gooders. ABC listening lefties the lot of them. What would they know with their fair-trade, gluten-free café frappuccinos, their vegan free range risottos and their mung-bean sandals? Fixated on their social engineering and economic vandalism! Redressing disadvantage? For goodness sake. Next thing it will all be about counteracting hegemonic masculinity.

No. We need to help the right women first. Help the right class of woman to have babies. Look how they did it in Singapore. You know I have always been a big fan of old Lee Kuan Yew. He was in power for thirty years. Knew a thing or two, too, the old Lee.

Open a nation for business and the benefits will trickle down. You bet you are, I am, you bet it will. That’s why we’ve had Eric Abetz slaving away to cut red tape; red tape like keeping tabs on women’s participation in the workforce. We have a mandate to cut this ‘red tape’ by relaxing the gender reporting requirements of big bosses that have only just come into force and which were intended to track women’s workforce participation and remuneration. Frees up employers to create jobs. We are the party of little government, freedom and opportunity.

Experts even said my PPL wouldn’t boost the workforce. Said highly educated, well-paid women already are highly attached to the labour force; already enjoy a high level of private provision. Said that, because of this full income replacement ”would have few incremental labour supply benefits”. They banged on about its expense and how other countries have social insurance to pay for it. But that’s not what my staff tell me. I listen to them. And some of them are women. He winked again.

Minister for Women is a vital job, of course it is, a huge responsibility. Huge. One I take very seriously, he said. Very seriously. I am a feminist. At home they call me Mr Betty Friedman. I have three daughters and a wife who is a woman.  My own mother was a woman. And we have two women in cabinet! But my daughters made me a feminist. In fact if you got them the wool, they could make you a feminist, too.

And here’s a fact for you. Since the carbon tax was abolished, the number of women in cabinet has doubled. And that’s not all. Nearly twenty per cent of my entire ministry is female, he boasted. I stand on my record. Of course, we want to include all women but, let’s be perfectly clear, that doesn’t mean men and women are equal. As I said a few years back:

“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”

But we’ve come a long way. As I said at IWD in March. Today you can be female and a high flyer. Look at a hundred years ago. ”It wasn’t so long ago as a Sydney-sider that there was a female lord mayor, a female premier, a female prime minister, a female head of state in our governor general, a female monarch, obviously, and indeed the richest person in our country was female.” And now, of course, we have a feminist male as a PM and Minister for Women.

Of course, I copped a bit of stick about it. Eyebrows went up everywhere when I put up my hand for this vital role. We need Tony like a fish needs a bicycle was the consensus. That’s what they said. And worse.

Was it not a calculated snub? Was my abrogation of the role of Minister for Women yet another gesture of contempt towards progressives in general and women in particular? And what of the implications? Some said it was a calculated insult to all women.

Well I knew it was going to be hard. But we are prepared to do the hard yards. Take the tough measures to get Australia back on its feet again. But it’s not like an Iron Man event or anything.

But there were a few hurdles, his staffers conceded privately; a few tricky patches he needed help with; needed to be eased through. First there was his almost total ignorance. Did he know who women were or what they did? On this and many similar fundamentals, but most especially his prejudices, his misinformation, his instinctive mystification his staff found it simpler, more expedient to adjust their own expectations than to expect to change his.

Julie Bishop rushed in to iron out the wrinkles and added a few more of her own. What the PM means is that benefits to women help everybody, she said.

“Women’s policy is everyone’s policy”. Did she mean Minister for Women was, therefore, a redundant anomaly?

“There are numerous issues that could be mentioned in the context of what we do for women,” she said. Yet she was not able to articulate a single one.

“I think the Prime Minister was focusing on the policy change that will have the largest impact on families and households and getting rid of the carbon tax is certainly that.” Yet out of Canberra’s spin cycle, the nation’s riddance of the carbon tax has been almost impossible to spot in the real world, in real things like power bills. Despite all of the coalition’s propaganda, very few of us are any better off and all of us face bigger utility bills in the near future.

In the end, of course, the PM was damned with faint praise. Bishop merely opened the door for Abbott to announce his decision to get out of the job to make way for someone who has the necessary qualifications and the experience. A woman would be a good idea. And as the PM has assured us, there are countless numbers knocking on the cabinet door.

Abbott chooses ‘a safe pair of hands’ in appointing Kevin Andrews to Defence, rather than competence or experience.

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EVERY three years Kevin Andrews and his wife Margaret book themselves in for a joint ­session on a marriage counsellor’s couch — or the workshop, as he prefers. They have a solid and loving 35-year marriage, he insists, but he likens his relationship to the modern motor car. “It might last a lifetime,” the Minister for Social Services explains from a couch in his Melbourne electoral office as modern motor cars scurry along Doncaster Road, “but usually we get it serviced every two or three years.” Without that service the car, like his marriage, may still run along, seemingly OK, “but the tyres get a bit bald, the brake pads need replacing and, you know, the steering needs adjusting — if you’re fixing it up, you’re going to go on for longer.” The Australian.

Kevin Andrews, former marriage guidance counsellor and latterly Minister for Social Services has been re-deployed into Defence, typically regarded as a graveyard post for fading cabinet stars, rudely shafted in the twilight zone of their careers who know too much to be sacked and who thus need to be put somewhere safe but not too far out of the public eye while they enjoy a Coonawarra Cab Sav over a long lunch with a general or a contractor or international arms dealer or other vital network contact; in order that their après-shafting dignity and of course their loyalty may be maintained whilst others do any work as may be required and generally carry on as if nothing had happened. Happily, Andrews will still be able to demonstrate the odd Nelson touch and will be encouraged to raise his scope to a sightless eye as he did when he made his recent pronouncement that the Liberal defeat in the Victorian election had nothing to do with the unpopularity of the federal government or its prime minister. Similarly when accused earlier this month of conflict of interest in accepting race meeting tickets from online betting companies he could not see any conflict of interest despite his membership of a government which has put him on committees examining gambling. His explanation is both Nelson’s unwillingness to see with a dollop of John Clark and Brian Dawe.

“The Social Services portfolio includes the issue of gambling, therefore it’s relevant the minister meet with industry stakeholders on a regular basis,” he said.

The Nelson touch will doubtless come in very handy when reporting on the progress of the war on ISIS. The marriage guidance background should also prove a real asset in the new job whether it be counselling families of victims of recruiting barracks bastardry or soothing grief-stricken families of servicemen and women on the loss of their loved ones in battle on behalf of big oil and international capital in the hell-hole that is modern Iraq or Syria. Andrews will be able to pour oil on the troubled waters of inadequate pay, bullying, sexism, institutionalised misogyny, homophobia and other key workplace issues. Strangely, however, none of these talents were mentioned by the PM on Sunday who chose to focus on Kevin’s other attributes. Andrews will be a safe pair of hands, Prime Minister Tony Abbott volunteered, a safe pair of hands, he repeated, while announcing other changes on Sunday. Abbott’s endorsement of the hapless Andrews’ hands is typically ambiguous unless we are meant to imagine the new minister catching grenades and lobbing them back in Iraq or Syria or some similar theatre of military adventure. Perhaps Andrews will be on standby during parachute drops to Kurdish allies to ensure that Australia’s support does not fall into ISIL hands. He may even be permitted to practice a little conflict resolution or to turn his safe hands to midwifery or triage as the battlefield occasion demands. This would allow him time to distribute his handy marriage counselling vouchers to combatants. His brainchild while he was Minister for social service, the vouchers may well be still in sufficient supply to more than meet requirements in the field. In October there were 90% of the $200 vouchers remaining, a fact which confirms Andrews’ intuition that creative forward-thinking problem solvers like himself may often find their solutions ahead of the market. Doubtless it is one of the risks of leading from the front. Of course, Abbott’s words should not be taken literally, (if they must be taken at all) a safe pair of hands is a phrase which can cover a lot of things which may otherwise offend including lack of initiative, dull, insipid, pedestrian and of course, reliable, as in one who would not dare step out of line. True, he has overstepped the mark occasionally following his boss Abbott by making statements which were not exactly gospel truth but, hell, he didn’t put them in writing and by God they put the wind up the dole-bludgers. In June, he said: “In New Zealand, everybody who is seeking to get welfare payments, the dole equivalent, has a one-month waiting period.” He seems to have made it up, off the cuff, but only because of the steadiness of his safe pair of hands. The figure of speech contains an element of rebuke for former sand-groping Defence Minister, David Johnston who was in some trouble over his long liquid lunches and most notably for his ill-considered but heartfelt comment that he would not trust the ASC to build a canoe. Johnston probably torpedoed himself in word and deed and seems also to have failed to protect his rear from sniper incursions from the harrying of a PM’s department which invaded Defence long ago but he retains support from the Defence Association which immediately criticised Andrews’ appointment because the minister has previously openly declared no interest in Defence, a remark which Defence and its associates rightly found offensive. The comment, which ‘safe hands’ Andrews claims today has slipped his memory, has been recorded by the association which appears to keep excellent records of its support from Canberra. Whilst it may prove an impediment to Andrews, the comment would only encourage a PM and his department who have virtually taken up permanent camp in Defence anyway, leaving the new Minister plenty of time to engage his other interests such as opposing abortion or addressing right wing family groups visiting from the US such as the World Congress of Families., a controversial conference that endorses anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage messages. Andrews was persuaded out of attending but was still able to help out the cause when he let them put the text of his speech on their website nevertheless. Whilst he and his wife have moved on from the Catholic counselling service they co-founded in Melbourne in 1980 called the Marriage Education Programme its objectives remain dear to his heart and he has recently published research to show that couples who marry stay together longer than those who are mere de facto sinners and destined to go to hell anyway. Andrews, a profoundly conservative Catholic, has for years been influential in shaping Abbott’s policy in ways that ensure right-wing thinking is represented at every turn. Same sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia for example, are opposed by Abbott and Andrews. Chaplains in schools, on the other hand, are all the go. Whether his rigidity and inflexibility in areas of religious doctrine and social mores have been identified as bolstering his suitability for defence is unknown but the fact is that he starts his portfolio on the back foot. Before even being sworn in today, Andrews has had to take evasive action: Australia’s 52nd Defence Minister was forced to reassure the military community of his commitment to the task after it learned he had “no interest in defence issues”. Spokesman for the Australian Defence Association, Neil James, said the association was “reasonably disappointed” in the appointment of Mr Andrews, describing it as another “terminal posting” for a politician in the twilight of their careers.

“Defence is getting very, very tired of receiving ministers who are really in their last term or two in Parliament. What we need is younger and more able ministers with a future ahead of them,” he said.

James is being a little narrow in his perspective and need not be so despondent. The facts are that Abbott makes the real decisions anyway; Defence is already colonised by the PM’s department. He should take heart in Andrews’ one-eyed vision and his pair of safe hands. He should also be cheered to know that Andrews is part of the Peta Credlin’s Star Chamber and is said to be on good terms with the PM’s ‘boss’, a small cabal of ministers who are happy to play obedient courtiers in the Credlin court one of a select and dwindling few to have the king (or his queen’s ear). How Andrews will fare when it all goes bad in Iraq or Lebanon or Syria or Israel and Palestine or when ISIS acquires nuclear weapons or when Putin formally annexes Ukraine, or when facing the challenges of an aggressive China and a militarised Japan are matters which can be safely left to the future. So, too, it has been decided with all other pressing highly complex military demands which pullulate like mushrooms in our region. We are to count our blessings. Rather than risk the situation to an intelligent, informed, up to date, cabinet minister with a military background or any expertise let alone any demonstrated capacity to seize the initiative or exercise leadership, instead, our anointed Defence Minister is to be a dogmatic apostle of conservatism on every front, a charmed member of Abbott’s Star Chamber, a dangerously right-wing bigot with a safe pair of hands.