Features Australia

Abbott, part II

With talk of an early election, it is time politicians focussed on what really matters to the electorate

25 July 2015

9:00 AM

25 July 2015

9:00 AM

Last summer, few commentators were predicting that Tony Abbott − dismissed as a ‘dead man walking’ − would lead the government to the next election.

This column not only predicted this but also that he would win. This view is now so mainstream that speculation has moved to the possibility of an early election.

It’s crucial that Abbott win a second term and lead the nation out of this current mess which, under anyone of the likely alternatives, would worsen. The leading example is global warming. Every politician knows that the billions they’ve wasted won’t change the temperature, but most are determined to spend even more. And that every IPPC projection has been wrong, just as the Weather Bureau was wrong about this winter being dry and warm.

While the politicians know the dire consequences of not choosing immigrants solely on their potential to contribute and to be loyal Australians, why do so many still want to outsource border control? Just as they know that failing to harvest our water, not protecting the aquifers and persecuting the farmers will eventually mean we won’t be able to feed ourselves. Or that if they continue ramping up welfare over and above any even generous safety net, increasing numbers will take up the bait. Or that if they favour the criminal over the victim, the people will lose confidence in justice itself. They all know that another Collins class submarine debacle will leave us defenceless. Or that no matter how much more they pour into the latest teaching fashions, school standards will continue their relative decline. They all know that if they continue to protect corrupt union bosses, rank-and-file trade unionists will suffer. Or that if Labor’s debt isn’t paid off, there’ll be no Frau Merkel to bail us out. And they know that if the powerbrokers (against whom Abbott courageously opened hostilities at his very first Cabinet meeting) continue to rule, too many preselections will not be made on merit.

Only a leader of the calibre of Thatcher, Reagan or Howard can change this. And they don’t come along often. Of all the potential leaders, Abbott is the one with the courage, principle and persistence to nudge, cajole and move the politicians inch-by-inch in the right direction. Hence the attempted coup to replace him earlier this year with a soft Labor-Green look-alike.

As with a referendum, an effective election campaign has distinct parallels with a military campaign. Knowing your enemy is critical. On this Abbott would well understand Churchill’s correction to a young visitor to Westminster. Pointing to the benches opposite, the young man said ‘Your enemies are there, aren’t they?’ ‘No,’ said Churchill, ‘they’re sitting behind me.’

Extend that to the gallery; these days great leaders − at least in the Anglosphere − seem to attract the concerted opposition of most mainline media. And it’s not only the ABC and Fairfax. This is because of the insertion of the almost daily gallery editorial − don’t call it news − into commercial TV news bulletins. That’s important because, unlike us, normal people aren’t much interested in politics and will tolerate no more than a few minutes daily. The hostility and often pettiness of these editorials does much to explain the opinion polls outside of an election. John Howard realised this – his ingenious strategy to circumvent the gallery should be followed.

So what must be done in preparation for the next election which could be as late as 14 January 2017? To avoid a separate half senate election, this can’t be held before 6 August 2016. The window for a double dissolution triggered by the Senate rejecting a bill a second time after a three month interval slams shut on 9 May 2016.

First, stop the scandalous theft of voters’ preferences and introduce optional preferential voting in the Senate. While at it, Abbott could try to neutralise the fraudulent tsunami unleashed when a narrow majority of High Court judges imagined that the Constitution requires the rolls to be kept open for a week after the election is called. Enrolments could be effected through Centrelink where identification could be verified through a registered bank account. Voters could be mailed a bar-coded card for scanning at the poll, and the roll linked electronically.

Then narrow down the issues to those which will count, especially defence, national security and the borders. The world is now more dangerous. Both Russia and China have expansionist agendas, and President Obama’s ‘peace in our time’ deal abandons America’s allies and paves the way for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and fund increased terrorism.

Then of course there’s the need to reduce the debt left by Labor by gradually returning welfare to the safety net and no longer indulging in the insane luxury of welfare immigration. The other core issues must include returning us to our true vocation of being the food basket of the world, where the government has already made a decent beginning, and continuing to encourage small business.

Some other questions are not vote-changers, despite claims to the contrary. There’s absolutely no urgency, pressure or even serious electoral interest in marriage equality. Running an opinion poll on this is like asking whether Pluto should be a planet or not. Were this not about a revolutionary change to a fundamental institution this would be the ultimate boutique issue. If the central role of the people in approving constitutional change means anything, it must be referred to them in a properly informed referendum.

Unless Labor were foolish enough to revive its CO2 tax, global warming will also not be an issue. Calling a CO2 tax an ETS based on that merchant bankers’ dream, a soi-disant carbon market, would be sure to be exposed in the campaign.

Then there are issues which are inappropriate for the political process and not only because opportunistic politicians will be tempted to use them to score points. One is the constitutional recognition of the indigenous people. It is hard to think of a question more inappropriate to vote on at an election. Others include federalism, the funding of the states and the GST. These should all be referred to a national convention, elected and appointed on the Howard model, operating at minimal cost. It was, after all, only through a convention and referring the federation proposal to the people that we avoided ending up as several different countries.

Considering all the alternatives, it is clear that only a second term Abbott government will turn the country in the right direction.

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