Tony Abbott owes Julia Gillard a big thank-you hug and kiss for his election a year ago, and on the eve of the victory anniversary he should embrace her again for she just keeps giving. Sending La Gillard a big bunch of flowers before she fronts Dyson Heydon’s trade union royal commission would also demonstrate that Abbott is not the misogynist his Fairfax and ABC detractors claim.
Six years of abject Labor dysfunctionality propelled Abbott and the Coalition into office and, were an election called now, it is unlikely that sufficient time has passed for the electorate to have erased its memories of that catastrophe.
A week may be a long time in politics, but few governments, Rudd’s and Gillard’s excepted, are defined by their first twelve months.
Confounding the usual clique of media critics is the fact that their divinations on the likely course of the Abbott government were as comprehensively incorrect as Tim Flannery on the likelihood of floods in Brisbane. The Abbott government, they clamoured on Radio National, in the pages of Fairfax, and in virtually unread columns and leaden contributions to the anti-social media, would be a bumbling embarrassment on the international stage and in regard to relations with Indonesia, disastrous.
The idiot savants, more idiot than savant, included Mike Carlton, Mark Kenny, Bob Carr, Tanya Plibersek, Bill Shorten, Gareth Evans and almost every critic offered up by the Left-wing media.
Abbott and Bishop’s calm diplomacy with Indonesia in the wake of the sheer bastardry of US traitor Edward Snowden’s leaking of ultra-sensitive material regarding Australia’s bugging of the Indonesian leadership confronted the Left’s commentariat with the absolute stupidity of their woeful predictions. Like race callers at a country meeting, they lacked the wit to contemplate the nature of President Bambang Yudhoyono and ignored his history with Australia forged in the aftermath of the bloody Bali bombings.
In 2003, a year before he was elected, I watched the then security chief deliver a hard-hitting speech against terrorism at a commemoration service in Bali. His was the only address to draw applause from the audience. That adamant approach to security issues has not diminished, and would never have permitted Snowden’s betrayal to interfere with our joint security interests.
Not only has Abbott personally risen on the international scene through his prompt response to the MH370 mystery, but the handling of the MH17 disaster by both he and Julie Bishop has been outstanding. But while terror seized the headlines, the efforts of Trade Minister Andrew Robb must not be overlooked. His negotiation of a free trade agreement, which importantly included agriculture, with Japan is a milestone comparable to the Menzies government’s first post-war trade agreement treaty with Japan.
The Abbott government’s most compelling success has been to stop the boats and Scott Morrison has performed outstandingly. Just one boat coming from India packed with Sri Lankans has managed to elude Operation Sovereign Borders customs vessels since Christmas, and there has not been a single death at sea.
The comparison with Labor’s woeful open borders and attendant loss of more than 1000 lives makes a mockery of their claims to embrace humanitarian values.
Though refugees may not command the front pages they did when bodies were being smashed against Christmas Island’s treacherous cliffs, the threat of Islamist terrorism spreading within isolationist sections of the Australian Muslim community remains high and will provide a challenge to the government.
Labor has already shown it is more committed to appeasing Muslims in the electorates in which they form significant voting blocs than dealing with national security, and Abbott’s attempts to include all who share the basic values of a liberal democracy in Team Australia have been predictably ridiculed but not among the Coalition’s natural constituency.
Some members of that constituency clearly feel let down, pointing to Abbott’s backtracking on the promise to dump S18C as a betrayal of core liberal support for free speech. They also view his “captain’s choice” to reinstate dames and knighthoods and his pursuit of his paid parental leave policy when other budgetary issues remain unresolved as misguided political strategy from within his office.
The vote for the dangerous populist Clive Palmer and his loopy eponymous party’s senators would indicate there is a bloc of punters who feel sufficiently disenfranchised to cast their votes before swine. John Howard and Tony Abbott dealt with Pauline Hanson when she appealed to a fringe that felt neglected and while Palmer is pitching for the same audience, he is vastly more dangerous as he possesses immensely greater cunning.
The defection of British Tory Douglas Carswell to Ukip should remind Abbott not to neglect core supporters.
The government’s amateurish tactics are also responsible for the continuing confusion over its first Budget. Any difficult policy needs at least three months to bed down and Tony Shepherd’s Audit Commission report would have been a great starting point to sell what should have been a tough budget, if it had been used strategically.
It wasn’t; even though some of the recommendations were far tougher than anything in the actual Budget.
Joe Hockey has had his moments but seems to drift, as does the government, on whether we have a budget crisis or not. Matthias Cormann has been more on message but his delivery is regrettably hindered by his accent.
Were that more members of the Abbott Cabinet, including the PM, able to emulate Malcolm Turnbull’s erudite expositions of policy, the next election would look somewhat surer.
That, indeed, goes to the heart of what is lacking in the Abbott government a year after its election – an ability to communicate with the electorate. With the shining exceptions of Turnbull, Morrison and Bishop, the government – including Abbott and his awkward delivery – shows few skills in explaining policies and winning voter support for them.
It is a handicap that will cost them dearly if they cannot overcome it. There is no time to waste.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.
You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10