Posts Tagged ‘Abbott’

As we said back in July, "if this isn't the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn't make the little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime ..."

As we said back in July, “If this isn’t the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn’t make the little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime …”

We have long been a supporter on this blog of the urbane character (and political philosophy) of Australia’s new Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull.

We predicted, regularly, (some would say, ad nauseam), that Tony Abbott would not make it to the next election, and we were beating that drum longer and harder than most, and that the very talented Turnbull would replace him.

So why were we so sure?

The answer is easy. As Prime Minister, from Day 1, Abbott was hoist by his own petard.

The very same ability that made him able to connect with the people over the terminally unpopular Gillard and Rudd governments – the ability to coin simple, aggressive phrases that seemed to sum everything up – was exactly the wrong ability to bring to The Lodge.

It is easily forgotten that Abbott did not really win the last election. Labor lost it, through a hideous morassive mixture of internicene squabbling, incompetence, and failure. In reality, this was the most “drover’s dog” election since Hawke defeated Fraser.

Here are the psychological moments that killed Abbott’s leadership:

The flags

flagsSurrounding himself with the Australian flag as he constantly “stuck to message” on combatting the “death cult” of Daesh (ISIS) didn’t ring true with the Australian people, even as they simultaneously and constantly noted his “strength” on defence and security issues.

But Abbott was badly advised. The ridiculous tableaux-style presentations smacked of a gung-ho triumphalism that sat badly – deep down – with a people who have proportionately suffered more in war than most Western nations, and who understand that sending young Australians overseas to fight wars should never be a cause for celebration, even mutedly, and especially not in a manner that smacked of Americanism. He struck the wrong note, time and again, as social media went into overdrive wondering how many flags he could squeeze into every press conference. Would the photographers need to start using wide angle lenses?

In advertising we have a phrase to condemn clumsy communications. “Ooops, your strategy is showing.” While the flags were symbolic – and not in the way Abbott intended – the continual harping on about the threats to Australia eventually started to rebound on Abbott. That the PM’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin and her crew couldn’t see that happening was just one of many mis-steps the Abbott team made.

Slugging pensioners to visit their Doctor

patient doctorThere is no question that Australia’s admirably robust health system is low on cash. The problem will have to be addressed.

Attempting to plug the gaps by hitting the poorest and most vulnerable customers of the system – who were over-heavily represented in the supporters of the Government – was an idiocy of breathtaking proportions.

The Paid Parental Leave Scheme nobody asked for, or wanted

baby-money1Way to go Tony.

Announce an unfunded, wildly generous and extravagant scheme without any thought to how it could be implemented or even whether your own party agrees.

Then dump it when the very people it was supposed to help make it perfectly clear they think it’s madness, and anyway what they really want is more childcare places, not money in their pockets, because no matter how much money they’ve got they can’t find a child centre with room for little Johnny and Jane.

Big thinking, for sure.

Just big dumb thinking.

It makes you sick

budget cuts health spending doctor holding piggypankDespite promising – repeatedly – before being elected that he would not cut health spending, Abbott duly introduced a vast range of cuts to the health budget.

Each one upset someone.

There’s no easy way to trim expenditure on health spending. But usually the public want to see it balanced by reinvestment in more modern facilities, in more efficient care, in better health outcomes. This was the story Abbott abysmally failed to sell.

Oi! That’s my tele you’re messin’ with, bro.

logos abc sbsAbbott swore he wouldn’t inflict cuts on the ABC and SBS, both of which are national icons and hugely appreciated.

In the event, he cut $43.5 million from them. Needless to say the networks reported the pain, again and again.

It was not a big enough cut to make any major difference to the national plenty, but plenty big enough to hurt the corporations and enrage their loyal audiences. So why do it? Only Tony can answer that for you.

Children in detention

Abbott and his advisors were right that Australians, taken as a mass, were and are deeply concerned about refugee arrivals. Australians are a long way from anywhere, feel isolated in a sea of Asian countries, and from “the Yellow peril” onwards the population has had a dichotimal view of immigration.

kidsWhen you add to that emotional confusion the horrors of the live trade in people across the storm-plagued seas around Aussie shores, “Stop the Boats” was a popular policy.

What was not popular, though, was the government’s tight-lipped refusal to comment on “operational matters”, for which the arguments were weakly made, and which simply made them look simply shifty and secretive. Why should we not know what was being done in our name?

What was not popular was the refusal to let journalists into the detention centres on tropical northern island nations from which leaked continual stories of mental illness, suicide, clashes with the locals, murder, rape, and worst of all, the distress of children left to rot behind barbed wire.

Australians are a generous and compassionate people. They might want to stop the boats, they were much less comfortable with the inevitable out-workings of that policy.

“Shirt fronting” Vladimir Putin

putinOutrage over the shooting down of MH17 by Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine was real and universal.

But as further evidence that Abbott could turn any gold into dross, his blokey threat to “shirt front” Russian president Putin just made him – and the country – look ridiculous.

When what was needed was austere, cold anger and statesmanlike comments, what we got was a one-time amateur boxer sounding like he was still holding court in the Students’ Union bar.

Captain’s Picks

It is hard to overstate the utter derision of the Australian people at Abbott’s repeated preference for thought bubbles, publicly announced, over carefully-plotted policy.

pphillipWhen he revived Imperial Knighthoods people snorted in disgust. They are – and were always – a rotten echo of a colonial era that Australia has long since rejected.

At a stroke, he made himself look ridiculous – and looking ridiculous is the most damaging thing any politician can do to him or herself.

When he then proceeded to announce that his first choice for a knighthood was Prince Phillip, the die was cast. It was weeks before the hoo-ha died down, sucking vital oxygen from the Government’s agenda.

We’ve upset the old. Now let’s upset the young. Oh, and their folks.

student-loansAbbott forced students to repay their debt earlier by lowering the wage they need to earn before payments kick in and increased student debt by increasing the interest on their fees.

It wasn’t just the youngsters who were pissed off.

Up and down the country their middle class parents – most of whom remembered the days of free tertiary education they enjoyed, and which they knew full well current Government Ministers had enjoyed as well – were depressed and irritated too.

All they saw was life becoming even more un-affordable for their offspring, which would inevitably increase the burden on them too. The dramatic unaffordability of the first home market didn’t help.

The “economic crisis” disconnect

Abbott came to power talking about the “structural deficit” in the Australian budget, as an excuse for a stingingly brutal first budget which was duly heroically mishandled by both himself and Joe Hockey.

BBQWhilst things hadn’t been exactly looking financially blooming for most Australians, in reality people were feeling reasonably well off.

To get people to go along with the budget, Abbott desperately needed to convince people that a Government taking in less money than it gives out – permanently – was an unsustainable proposition.

At the time, we advised him to focus on the credit card argument – to wit, you can’t live “on tick” forever, sooner or later the credit card payment falls due. Instead, demonstrating the tone deafness which characterised his hold on the highest office in the land, Abbott comprehensively failed to explain why such a dramatically recessionary budget was necessary. That failure to engage was the moment his fate was ultimately sealed, because so much else flowed from that glaring failure.

Abbott isn’t now out of power because of Turnbull’s shenanigins or, indeed, a “febrile” media or any other excuse. He’s out of power because he just wasn’t very good at his job.

Which will be the hardest thing of all, we are sure, for this intensely driven and self-critical man to accept.

We will now make our first prediction of this new era.

The Liberal/National Coalition will win the next Federal Election. You heard it here first.

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Fresh back from chucking umpteen bazillion dollars at Adelaide in a desperate attempt to shore up Coalition support in South Australia, where about four Coalition seats look very vulnerable to voter anger over the decline of the ship-building industry – Hey! Remember “We’ll build 12 subs in Adelaide” before the last election”? Guess that was a “non core promise. Also called “bullshit” – Tony Abbot was today in Geelong assertively announcing “Everything we do is focused on jobs and growth.”

“Everything we do”? A cheery message to a regional city that has seen it’s car manufacturing industry decimated and it’s ship-building in decline.

Sadly, this was also the day that saw the jobless rate “jump” – the ABC’s word, not mine – from 6% to 6.3%. Against expectations. And a major news item, unsurprisingly.

Could Abbott have chosen his chest-beating words more carefully? Assuredly.

Does he ever come into contact with the real world outside the Canberra bubble?

We wonder, frankly.

We’re with the kid at the front.

abbott

According to the national Australian newspaper today, Australian PM Tony Abbot and his senior advisers seriously floated the idea that Australia attack IS in northern Iraq on our own with 3,500 troops.

In our opinion, that he could even think it, even in passing – even, if as charitably as we could put it, he was simply “floating options” – this lunatic suggestion proves him manifestly unsuited to high office. Blind Freddie could see that anything remotely resembling that action would be a suicide mission.

Personally we wouldn’t let him run a kindergarten, let alone a country.

How seriously Abbott considered the idea is hard to tell, but the story continues that this is not the first time Abbott has suggested committing troops to a boots on the ground deployment that the military planners had to hose down. He also apparently suggested that 1,000 Aussie men and women be sent to guard the site of the MH17 Malaysian airliner shot down over the Ukraine which killed 38 Aussies.

According to the Australian “leading military planners” had to point out to him that not speaking Russian or Ukrainian would have made their task just a tad tricky, and also that they would have had difficulty distinguishing between rebel and government troops.

The fact that they could have become embroiled in the conflict itself might have been a cautionary note, one supposes, although the story does not expand on that.

That somebody so ludicrously gung-ho could lead our Government and by implication our armed services is, surely, truly and deeply worrying. We can’t imagine your average service Joe or Josephine would be very happy at the news, nor their families and friends.

According to “insiders” quoted by the newspaper, Abbott sits for much of his day in Parliament House pondering national security, Islamic State, and reading Winston Churchill. A someone who is “weak on detail”, perhaps that’s an area he feels safe handling. Today’s revelations suggest his focus should be shifted elsewhere – fast.

The rest of the story by John Lyons, an Associate Editor of the paper, details in excruciatingly close focus the dysfunctionality of the current government, including ripping the coverings away from his much-disliked Chief of Staff Peta Credlin with a clarity we have not seen before, and how completely out of his depth Abbott seems to be.

And, of course, the near-inevitability of his replacement by the urbane and competent Malcolm Turnbull, which we have been predicting since before Abbott was even elected Prime Minister, for exactly the reasons that are now becoming so obviously clear.

But this latest revelation, we confess, has shocked even us, and we are old, wizened and cynical observers of the body politic indeed, Dear Reader.

What we wonder now is whether today’s revelations – carried, after all, in an outlet which is notable for its previous support of Abbott and the conservative side of politics generally – might be the final straw. Has a Murdoch-owned paper skewered yet another Prime Minister? We shall see.

You can read the “Exclusive” story in today’s paper. Online it requires you to subscribe – a detestable development in newspapers in our opinion – so we suggest you simply go and buy the paper.

As for when the axe should fall on the woeful Abbott, we can only urge the Liberal caucus to act. Enough is enough. We all know this is coming – get it done so the country can move forward.

It should be noted Abbott has subsequently denied the article. Does he really think anyone will believe him?

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/feb/21/tony-abbott-wanted-australian-ground-troops-in-iraq-reports

We have listened to his denial and are very doubtful.

AbbottWell, yes and no.

In our long article yesterday afternoon we opined that Abbott would not be Prime Minister by this evening. Yet he survived the party room spill 61 votes to 39 (with one spoiled ballot, and one MP away, out of the Liberal total of 101 MPs). So “Yes”, in that sense, we were wrong.

However we were much more right than wrong in picking the terminal nature of Abbott’s leadership. The short story is, this deeply disliked man is now finished as PM.

As we said in our final para, no Prime Minister can effectively govern the country when 40% of his MPs actively want him replaced, and when even some of those who voted for him are reported as having done so out of a sense of loyalty to give Abbott “a few more months” to pull things round, but without any real confidence that he will.

As this article reveals, Abbott is apparently shell-shocked at the scale of the revolt against him. His speech to the party room after 39 of his colleagues effectively tried to sack him was apparently one of a man who has been shaken to the core.

What’s more, Abbott now has to endure two horrible moments in the next 24 hours.

First, he has agreed to front Leigh Sales on tonight’s 7.30 Report. It’s a foolish move, because Sales has had the measure of Abbott before, and predictably will again. Of all the TV journalists working she is unlikely to let him get away with trotting out a list of platitudes and non-specific promises about future changes which he can get away with more easily during a “door stop”. We confidently expect Sales to tear him to shreds over his very poor performance in recent weeks, and in the spill vote, and the fact that today’s media agenda is now that he is a “Dead Man Walking”.

On the other hand, the PM is between a rock and a hard place. The 7.30 Report is the country’s leading current affairs programme. To have avoided the appearance would have made him look weak and cowardly.

Second, he has to go into the Parliament to face the derision of the Labor Opposition and the Greens, although that Opposition may be somewhat muted by the bizarre calculation that they want Abbott to struggle on – even right up to the next election – rather than face Turnbull instead. Nevertheless, the atmospherics will be unpleasant in the extreme and cannot help Abbott to look like anything more than he is, which is mortally wounded.

Today’s opinion polls also bear out what we were talking about yesterday. Abbott’s “brand” is utterly toxic with the public. Ultimately, MPs in his party room will make a hard-headed judgement that their seat is at risk if Abbott stays, and likely to be retained if Turnbull takes over. It’s Hawke and Keating all over again, although we would be surprised if Turnbull were to retire to the backbench in the interim. He has carefully avoided challenging Abbott directly. To his eyes, the “two step” process is working just fine.

abbott angryAbbott’s instincts will be to stay on and fight. The man is aggressive and ambitious to the very tips of his bedsocks, and he took a long time to get to the top of the greasy pole.

He will grimly hold on, hoping against hope that he can turn things around, until he can present himself as a credible leader again.

In the meantime, he will make noises about being more collegiate, while continuing to just do whatever he feels like, in reality, just as with today’s announcement on the submarine tender, which even caught the leading South Australian Liberal Christopher Pyne unawares. Pyne is one of Abbott’s “lock-step” supporters – what does it say about Abbott’s leadership skills that he didn’t even ring Pyne – or get someone else to – to tip him the wink before the news broke?

In reality – and this won’t happen, although it should – having lost control of the best part of half of the party room, Abbott should now retire the Prime Ministership and hand it to the much more popular Turnbull. If he did, he would go down in history as a man who – with vision and dignity – genuinely put his own ambitions behind those of his party, and the country generally. If he did, he could still make a decent fist of a major Ministry, if he chose to. He is still a young man: this does not have to be the end of his public service.

If he does not, everyone understands that – barring a miraculous turn in fortunes – he will have to be dragged bloodied and screaming from the top job, suffering the death of a thousand leaks and endless behind the scene briefings and “less than enthusiastic” endorsements from those who would really rather see him gone. And in the meantime, the Liberal brand will continue to be tarnished, and his replacement will be given less and less time to turn things around.

Every fibre of Abbott’s being will urge him to fight on, but those closest to him, and his coterie of sycophantic acolytes in particular, should do the right thing and tap him on the shoulder and tell him to go now. They might recall Cromwell’s historic call to the Rump Parliament in 1653.

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

He is the lamest of lame ducks. And comedians and commentators will not hesitate to brand him as such. Have a look here at one brilliant skewering of his current situation from John Clarke and Brian Dawe.

Sadly, their performance in recent months suggests they will have nothing like either the guts or integrity to shirtfront Abbott and do so.

And so the game commences.

Tony-Abbott-Wink

There are a number of reasons Tony Abbott will no longer be Prime Minister after tomorrow, and some of them are linked.

Offending your deputy. Offending half your backbench. Offending great lumps of the Australian public.

But the main reason is really quite simple. He is very obviously, as far as any elector can tell, just not a very nice man.

Being considered a nice person is a much under-rated trait in politicians, as it is in the most walks of life in the body of the population.

Most of the really powerful and successful people we have met – and we have met more than our fair share over the years – have had a few things in common. They are usually personally charming, they exhibit humility, they have “the common touch” whatever their station in life, and they genuinely care about other people’s lives. Or at the very least, they seem to.

There are other characteristics, too. They tend to be ferociously hard workers, and they maintain a sense of perspective. Sometimes things will go wrong, sometimes they will go right, but there is never a reason to be nasty, or essentially unethical. Push the envelope, don’t rip it to shreds.

They have some advantages, of course. In the realms of the uber-powerful or the uber-wealthy, the rules that the rest of us find ourselves tied up in knots in don’t normally apply.

They don’t get caught drink driving, because they have drivers. They don’t end up in jail for tax fraud because they pay top dollar to stop that happening. And anyway, their affairs are so convoluted that the tax office doesn’t really want to look too closely, stretched for resources to prosecute cases as they always are.

They don’t seem as stressed as we do because they don’t queue for airline seats and the seats they buy are more comfortable. They don’t spend a day trying to negotiate a ticketing system to see a top show or sporting event, because their personal assistant gets them a seat in the Director’s Box, where they are always welcome because of their referred authority. Their holidays, such as they are, are smoother, more private, less noisy, less hassle, and more satisfactory. And if for some reason they aren’t, they throw money or influence at the problem.

But despite all this privilige, most truly successful people have an astounding ability to drop down to our level and chat amiably about our latest problem with an internet provider, how our local supermarket has stopped stocking our favourite fruit juice, or the problems we are having with our teenage progeny. It may be that they remember when they, too, were mere hoi polloi, or it may be that they recognise that while success is nice to have, it rests on the common consent of those around them.

There is a reason all those Godfathers in American hoodlum movies are seen kissing babies and helping little old ladies as they parade down the street in Little Italy. It’s good for business. And keen observers of human nature as all successful people are, they work at it until it comes naturally.

This is not to say they are all paragons. Clearly they are not.

Some drink too much, either in binges or habitually.

The most significant politician in 20th century history, Winston Churchill consumed at least a bottle of brandy a day. People in Melbourne still talk in hushed tones of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s capacity for the grog, even though he had the discipline to give it up when high office beckoned.

Some are sexually wayward. A bunch of Australian Prime Ministers have been enthusiastic adulterers, (the laws of libel dictate discretion here), and all the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, and Bill Clinton also come to mind without much effort. Francoise Hollande, for that matter.

Yes, powerful businesspeople run foul of the law with some regularity, especially in civil court. But rather than rant and rave at their misfortune, they merely view it as a sort of occupational hazard. A bit like the rest of us view parking tickets.

So they aren’t really like us, no matter where they started out. But in general, in our experience, it is the capacity to simply get on with people that marks the truly successful from the also rans.

Some time ago, we wrote a blog that talked about the demise of Kevin Rudd, which we titled “Kevin Rudd has his Lee Iaccoca moment”. In it, we explained that Rudd’s disonnection from the leadership of the Australian Labor Party rested entirely on his near-maniacal control freakery, which caused the distrust of those around him, (and it went back a decade), and an acid tongue which hurt people’s feelings. In simple terms, he failed the likeability test.

Yes, Rudd had the capacity to be chirpy and chipper and even make us laugh with his obvious erudition and quick wit, especially in public. Sadly, though, no one near him, or very few indeed, actually liked him. More than one political groupie muttered in our hearing that they thought he was unhinged. He was better liked in the public, mainly the first time round because he wasn’t John Howard, but he wasn’t really mourned when he left the leadership either the first or the second time, when, of course, he was only returned to the top job because he wasn’t Julia Gillard.

There were very few people rushing to lift his head away from the block when the axe started to fall in the initial leadership putsch that so reminds us of what’s happening in Canberra tomorrow. And he simply  couldn’t believe it. Him! Kev! The smiling Milky Bar kid, the good Christian, the clever little bugger who overcame adversity, and the man who beat John Howard. Who could chat to the Chinese Premier in Mandarin, no less.

He didn’t get it then, tears in his eyes at the enormity of the disaster, and probably still doesn’t now.

Political leaders need to understand something central to their careers. Not being someone – Beazely, Gillard, Rudd, Howard, Turnbull, anyone – isn’t a good enough reason to keep the top job. It might get you there, but then we want more. We want their capacity to be “not them” to turn into someone we can grow to support in their own right.

Was or is Rudd unhinged as the whisperers asserted? We suspect not. Personalities come in all shapes and sizes and types, and labelling someone barmy is just code for “not like most people”. It doesn’t really matter. But some character aspects were certainly publicly observable. Capricious when it came to policy announcements? Unshakeable certitude? Breathless cynicism? Two faced? Rudd was accused of all that by colleagues and more. Similarly, not for nothing is Abbot often referred to as “The Mad Monk”, and not just because he was a Roman Catholic seminarian at one point. People can be very harsh to those they personally dislike. Both to his face (reputedly) and to the media, Tony Abbott has had to endure a repeated theme from his colleagues in the last week.

“You’ve done this to yourself.” The phrase was no doubt delivered with some relish.

Exactly like Rudd, he has a terrible aptitude for making it up as he goes along, and his basic error has been his own over-weening self belief, expressed in an arrogant disregard for the real world outside his personal office bubble, and the Canberra bubble generally. We are not talking about mere self-confidence or a healthy regard for his own abilities. All leaders, in all spheres, need that. Abbott’s major problem has been the apparent impossibility of his genuinely (as opposed to begrudgingly) believing he could be wrong about … well, about anything, much, really. From the outside looking in, it feels like “collegiate” is a word that he only discovered last Monday.

And his righteous self-belief has been expressed with such vehemence that he has carved out a hard-edged role for himself that is so acutely defined that now he simply can’t escape it. He has created an image of himself that has become reality, inside him, and externally.

When Abbott was tearing down Julia Gillard, and just out-waiting the hapless Rudd when he returned as PM, people in general – the mug punters, you and me – even if they agreed with the need to get the Labor Governmet out before it made any more mis-steps, turned their head away from the spectacle in hand-over-the-mouth disgust at his tactics.

The people of Australia wanted the Labor Government gone so badly that their swallowed the reflux bile rising in their breasts and their concerns. But Abbott crucially mistook this mass real politik for “taking the country with him”. (Which is why his current desperate appeal is based around “the country elected me to lead our party and the Government”, which is a nonsense, of course. The country elected the Libs and the Nats because Labor needed to be flung out. They got Abbott as part of the package.)

With each prating, carping, negative act of savagery while Opposition Leader Abbott not only damaged Gillard but also his own long-term public persona. He should have seen a warning, for example, in the general head-nodding agreement – not just in Australia, but worldwide – when Gillard tore into him in the Parliament for what she characterised as his innate misogyny and sexism. People then, and now, felt sorry for Gillard, sensing that her competence might be in question, and certainly her political judgement and presentation, but also perceiving that there was a clear goal to damn her simply as a woman holding the top job.

The continual focus on her looks and dress sense in the rabid right media pack that Abbott did nothing to hose down, for example. Abbott standing and sneering in front of lunatics carrying “Ditch the Bitch” signs – such a specifically unpleasant anti-female expression – knowing full well that the TV cameras would film him grinning from ear to ear in front of them.

And then, the feeling grew, by implication, event by event, that Abbott just doesn’t like women generally, or at the very least holds views better suited to the 1950s.

Where were the women in his Cabinet? With one exception, nowhere.

His later insistence, as Prime Minister, that successful Foreign Minister Julie Bishop needed a Ministerial chaperone to the climate change conference in Peru was just one recent example of a continuing round of mis-steps in this area, and his refusal to accept her offer of help with his under-whelming National Press Club performance was just the latest, along with his clumsy and offensive co-opting of her support for his staying in the top job, only to be shot down a few hours later by a cool and clearly angered Bishop.

And during all this growing female angst, what was Abbott’s response to his enlarging personal “gender gap”? To announce a completely ill-thought through paid parental leave scheme as a “top of the head” sop to working women, that was derided as shooting from the hip and likely to be unaffordable the day it was announced, to gasps of despair from his own supporters.

Women from all walks of life noted that they didn’t need more money so they could stay home and bake cookies for a while, they needed childcare places so they could continue to pursue their career. Until last week, it appeared no-one could hear them.

And at a stroke, with “PPL”, Abbott skewered his own budget position with what looked like yet more Howardesque middle class welfare, and forced the Coalition into the position of “soaking the poor” to balance the books. It took Abbott 16 months to realise his mistake, and then his grudging retraction of the patently unworkable policy was mealy-mouthed. Tone deaf, as always.

Yet as he watches his colleagues say one thing to his face and then do another as they cast their private ballots, we would be very surprised if Abbott has any real understanding of what is happening to him. Well, we have a primer for him.

The very same people that don’t want unfettered flows of refugees into Australia also don’t want those refugees left floating about in the bowels of a navy vessel for weeks, or consigned to misery in tropical concentration camps, reduced to psychological illness, self harm, or worse. The first is an appeal to commonsense and good governance. The second is mean-minded and cruel. That our Government doesn’t seem to care about the latter upsets many more people than just those on the left.

Similarly, there may be no pressing mood for Australia to become a Republic. Australians are deeply small-c conservative most of the time, and if something’s working OK, such as our constitutional arrangements, we’re pretty much happy to leave it alone.

But we do like Australia for the Australians – we detest knee-bending to the Poms in general, and royalty in particular, with the exception, perhaps, just a little, in the case of the Queen herself, who is widely admired. The “in itself unimportant” decision to knight Prince Phillip – the decision to bring back knighthoods at all, in fact – made us feel like the whole country was a laughing stock.

That Abbott couldn’t have predicted this goes precisely to his inability to feel himself part of the herd, even momentarily or occasionally. His later embarrassed admission that his action had been a “distraction” during the disastrous Queensland election showed no sign that he really understood that he made us all feel faintly ridiculous, and as we hadn’t done anything wrong, well, that he could swallow all that, thank you very much.

It is often said that a politician can survive anything but ridicule. The ridicule that swamped Abbott in the days after the announcement revealed with stark, lightning-bright clarity one unmistakeable fact. And it is this.

We really don’t like him. This wasn’t a “Silly boy, oh well, all’s well that ends well” moment. This was a “You complete fuckwit” moment. His inability to truly take that on board in a convincing manner only made the whole sorry saga worse.

But his real problem – the one that will see him dumped – has been the gung ho manner in which he has chosen to address a “fiscal crisis” that the public simply doesn’t perceive. Backing his even more socially inept Treasurer at every turn, he foisted on the public a panicky, poorly presented and savagely deflationary budget (the only thing missing was the word austerity) that no one understands or wants, and then utterly failed to sell it.

Meandering between a self-satisfied “I know more than you do” smirk and a frowning, headmasterish “you need this” assertiveness, he managed in just a few short weeks – ably assisted by his tin-eared Treasurer – to offend just about every “ordinary voter” in sight.

As Paul Kelly wrote in The Australian yesterday, “The Abbott-Hockey fiscal consolidation is undermined by a popular revolt, Senate vandalism and election results that prove the public is unpersuaded of the case for reform.”

In this sentence, Kelly of course uses the word popular to mean “widespread” or generalised. But in fact, the core problem for Abbott is deeper than that. Not only is the broad mass of the public unconvinced of his policies, and therefore acting up, we are also communally delighting in watching Abbott being dragged bloodily from the throne. The revolution is popular. It is also popular.

In suburban households up and down the country, Madam Lafarge is click-clacking with her knitting circle in joyous expectation that Abbott’s head will soon tumble into the basket in front of them.

We. Just. Don’t. Like. Him. One too many (or perhaps a few thousand too many) ums and errs. One too many refusals to take responsibility. One too many unpleasant little jabs or full-blown haymakers. One too many unblinking cold stares.

Dear Reader, we have been on this planet 57 years, and since the age of 16 we have been actively involved in politics, current affairs or commentary to some degree or other, including even – once – facing the general public for endorsement ourselves.

Our fascination with ballot-box politics has seen us read, experience and learn voraciously everything that has passed our way from the minority governments of Harold Wilson, Ted Heath and the miners, Margaret Thatcher and the miners, Jim Callaghan’s winter of discontent, the breaking of union power in the UK, Thatcher and Reagan staring down Gorbacev, the Blair “Noo Labour”revolution, the failure of American policy in the mid-East from Reagan and Carter onwards, the near-perpetual antagonism of Howard and Peacock, the glittering landscape of micro-economic reform under Hawke, Keating and Kelty, the near-collapse of democratic Government in Italy, and now in Greece, the demise of fascism in Spain and Portugal and their current struggles to retain good governance, the economic miracle of Germany and its internally-mutually-supportive PR-based politics and worker-inclusive industry, the stumbling from economic powerhouse to economic stagnant pond in Japan, the growth and gradual opening of China (where we have done business, and a country we admire), the Asian tiger phenomenon, the descent of Central America into chaos and murderous civil conflict and it’s slow recovery, and, of course, the adventurism of Iraq and Afghanistan. All of it. We hoover it all up.

Which is why we feel it helpful to say that in all that time, and with all that political junkie obsessivenes, we have never – never – experienced such generalised dislike of a democratically-elected politician as we now experience in our daily life whenever Tony Abbott’s name is discussed. Irregardless of whether we are talking to ironed on Labor voters, Liberals, Nats or Greens, the man simply cannot buy a good word from anyone. He is no longer even seen as a necessary evil. The people have spoken, daily, for months and months, if not, in reality, for years.

We just don’t like him. We just don’t like him, a lot.

With his leadership lying in the hands of a group of people who would rather like to keep their jobs after the next election, that is why he is about to lose the Prime Ministership. Not because (as will be said afterwards) he attempted the hard yards of economic reform. But because he royally fucked it up.

As Grace Collar remarked yesterday (also in the Oz) “Trust and confidence have been lost. One decision has already been made. This government – in its present form – and the Australian people have parted ways. This decision is final. It cannot be undone, no matter what. No appeal can occur.”

People don’t like Tony Abbott. His own people don’t even like him. They may even hate him.

Malcom Turnbull, it will be noted by observant readers, is likeable.

And in politics, that, as they have been known to say, is that.

PS Even if Abbott somehow survives tomorrow – we dont think he will, but he might – he is doomed. The votes against him will reveal a very significant section of his party no longer believe in him. That is an impossible position for a Prime Minister to take to the people in 18 months or less. He has to win big – huge – to survive, and he’s not going to. Simple as that. You heard it here first.

abbott angry

There is a scenario that could see embattled Aussie Prime Minister Tony Abbott overturned as quickly as next week.

This weekend, the election in Queensland will be a disaster for the governing Liberals, or as they are in Queensland, the merged Liberal National Party. Such an outcome is hard to imagine, given their massive majority in Brisbane, but disaster it will be nevertheless, in this most reliably conservative of conservative Australian states.

Not happy, Tony. Not happy.

Not happy, Tony. Not happy.

We think it unlikely that the LNP will lose Government, although it is possible. Labor needs to achieve a 12 per cent swing to gain 36 seats if it is to win a majority government and recent polls have put the party within striking distance. But we think the swing is likely to be nearer 8-10%, especially as we expect Newman to do marginally better than Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk in the leader’s debate in Brisbane at 1pm today.

In that case what will happen is their majority will be slashed and loads of their seats lost. And we expect their leader, Campbell Newman, to lose his seat, too. Already desperate right-wing constitutional nerds are taking to the airwaves to argue he can stay as leader even if he’s outside the Parliament, ignoring the obvious fact that his personal standing will have been effectively rubbished by such an outcome.

Given the scale of the debacle, the blame will inevitably be sheeted home to Abbott on analysis TV and all the major talk shows on radio, worsening the standing of a man who is now so noxiously unpopular that he was effectively banned from campaigning in Queensland during the election.

What will make the sting deep and enduring is that Palaszczuk’s campaign has focussed repeatedly on health and education – the very areas Abbott has been foolish enough to attack repeatedly at a Federal level. The contrast can hardly be more stark or more telling if the Queensland election plays out as we expect.

But amongst all this gloom, what is even worse is that Abbott is slated to talk to the influential National Press Club lunch on Monday immediately after all that sickening analysis.

abbott

“Eli eli, lama sabachthani?”

Never at his best when challenged publicly, there is no doubt that he will be embarrassedly umming and erring his way through a barrage of amused questions first of all keeping the “Why knight Prince Phillip?” hare running, (which he will seek, but fail, to deflect), but then, more importantly, questions seeking to pin the blame for the Victorian election, the Queensland election, and the Government’s low standing on him personally.

Speculation on his leadership will not be put to his ministers, as in the last few painful days, it will be put to him personally.

In response, he will seek to combattively state that, “Er, um, I will be taking our great party to the next election, I am focused on selling the Government’s successes”, and end up sounding, in other words, exactly like every other party leader has sounded just before they’re rolled. And reminding everyone that selling his Government’s “successes” is exactly – precisely – what he has failed to do.

There will be nowhere for him to hide from this grilling, (we could almost feel sorry for him if he had not brought this all down on his own head), and he will wilt under its blistering heat, looking ever more uncertain and strained as it wears on.

Journos in the audience will have been assisted by plentiful leaks and background briefings from anti-Abbott forces in his party room, manoeuvring to get their preferred replacement into a position where the crisis has become so awful as to prompt their immediate elevation to the top job.

If, by some miracle, Abbott performs strongly at the Press Club, the inevitable chippy-chippy-chop may be delayed a little, but we repeat our oft-stated opinion that his metaphorical decapitation is now inevitable. Indeed, as we stated before he won the last election, it always was going to be.

He just has the wrong skills to be PM – always did have – and he has not managed to curb those elements of his personality that make him so self-evidently unfitted for the role. The Liberal Party is infinitely more ruthless than its Labor opponents, even though that is not generally understood. They know any replacement – and it would take a miracle for them not to choose the country’s most popular politician in Malcolm Turnbull – will need time to settle the ship before the next election. They will not risk losing what should have been an unloseable election against the largely inoffensive but also un-inspirational policy-lite Bill Shorten.

Time marches on, but Abbott’s Prime Ministership will not. Like some awful, inevitable Shakesperian tragedy, he will pay the ultimate price for the hubris that saw him persuaded to stand against the infinitely smarter and more electorally appealing Turnbull in the first place.

And if Turnbull does take over, we don’t expect to see Hockey moved from the role of Treasurer, in which he has been an unmitigated disaster. One thing will save him. If he were moved, we think Julie Bishop will put her hand up for that role – a step too far for the mad-eyed Western Australian in our view – and she would fail in it just as Abbott has failed as PM. It’s one thing to blather on aggressively about how rotten Vlad Putin is for shooting Australians out of the sky. It’s quite another to steer the ship of state’s financial well-being. Nothing in her period of Opposition or in Government shows her up to such a task.

Turnbull will not risk her messing things up for him, so will be inclined to leave Hockey in place.

In which place, he will be told to smoke no cigars in public, to stop shooting from the lip about the poor driving less than the rest of us, and essentially to shut up and leave it all to Malcolm. You’ll hear a whole lot less about “structural deficit” under Turnbull and much vaguery about “good management”. The great irony of the Abbott experiment for him and his backers like Nick Minchin is that his failure will kill hard right economic solutions for a decade.

Australia will return quietly comfortably to “tax and spend”, and not even notice the difference. and all of Abbott and Hockey’s painful Thatcherite striving will be forgotten. Shakespearian indeed.

The one thing against Abbott being moved against next week, of course, is that Parliament is not sitting again till 9th February. Liberal MPs would have to be called back to gather specially for a party room spill. Such an outcome is rare, but not unknown. It could, though, just save his bacon. But not for long.

abbottBefore he was even elected, we opined, publicly, that Tony Abbott would never make it to the next election. Or that if he did, he would never win it.

We tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to popularise the hashtag #onetermtony to encapsulate our point of view. Clearly we haven’t cracked working Twitter yet.

Our reasons were very straightforward. In our consideration, Abbott exhibited (and continues to display) the wrong skill set to be Prime Minister.

His “crash through or crash” style and belligerent University-debating-society arrogance is all wrong for leading a party, let alone a country. He was pitchforked into the job by Nick Minchin and others (by just one vote, remember) because of their visceral distaste for the much more electorally acceptable small-L liberalism of Malcom Turnbull. We said at the time, and we say it again: this was a gigantic strategic failure born of naked personal ambition, hubris and sheer political bastadry. And now it has entirely predictably come back to bite the Liberal Party in the butt, big time.

Be under no misapprehension, Dear Reader. As things stand, the Australian Labor Party is undeservedly coasting back into national power with a leader whose main role in the run up to the next election is to appear inoffensive. Policy development? None. Vision for the country? None. Hugs and smiles? Yup, plenty. The target is not just small, it’s miniscule.

Let us just revise the history of the last 18 months – Abbott won against the terminally wounded Gillard and the terminally incompetent Kevin Rudd. Through their own infighting and their catastrophic mishandling of various key policy imperatives, the ALP had made themselves virtually unelectable. Theoretically for a generation.

That they have now defeated a competent if un-inspirational Coalition Government in Victoria, look like they are at the very least competitive against a first-term LNP Government with a massive majority in Queensland, and currently seem a shoe-in for the next Federal election, is testament to the scale of the muddled, tone deaf yet vociferous incompetence of Abbott and many in his cabinet.

The chickens are coming home to roost so fast we shall all be eating them for breakfast for months to come. On Fairfax radio this morning a “through and through” Liberal voter on callback radio accused Abbott of being the “world’s worst salesman: in danger of handing the keys to the Lodge back to Labor”. Rarely can a Prime Minister have endured such a shellacking from one of his own in public.

Yet the caller, of course, had put his finger on exactly what’s wrong with Abbott. When you are Opposition Leader, you are an attack dog. You’re not selling anything, in reality, except the incompetence of the incumbent administration. When you are in power, you need to demonstrate you are LISTENING, not just spouting off. Abbott is inherently disinclined to listen.

HowardHe sees himself in the mould of his political mentor, John Howard, who paraded his “tough little Johnnie” status to considerable effect and turned himself into one of the most successful politicians in Australian history.

But Abbott lacks something Howard had in spades: the ability to not get in front of popular opinion, and to listen to the undercurrents in the electorate as well as what is actually said. For example, despite being both a social and fiscal conservative (or saying that he was), Howard (and his Treasurer Costello) actually maintained very high rates of taxation and social welfare, the latter aimed directly at the very Middle Class which Abbott is now seeking to soak to pay for un-necessary tax cuts for business and the uber-rich. Dumb.

But there are many other mis-steps that are down to Abbott personally. His office – led by the incredibly unpopular Peta Credlin – was highly effective in keeping the Coalition caucus on message (and largely, in fact, silent) while Abbott got himself elected. But the same unbridled disciplinarian approach in Government (which appeals to another side of Abbott’s nature, ever the proto-Roman-Catholic-seminarian) has antagonised Ministers and backbenchers alike. The most obvious mis-step being to enrage one of his rivals, Julie Bishop, by insisting on sending Andrew Robb as a right-wing minder to accompany her to the climate conference in Peru in case she should actually – gasp! – agree to do something to combat climate change. That’s not the sort of “direct action” on the problem that Australians expected.

Abbott’s record in Government on Medicare has been simply woeful, too.

The initial $7 co-payment idea was effectively (and accurately) seen as dreadfully

There are no votes in upsetting little old ladies. Or those who love them. Dumber.

There are no votes in upsetting little old ladies. Or those who love them. Stupid.

unfair to those who rely on bulk-billing medical practices to help them survive poverty and/or old age, and the illnesses associated with it. Frail little old ladies unable to pay to visit their Doctor was not a good look for a party which counts the majority of retirees amongst their supporters. Astoundingly stupid.

A more recent attempt to slap on a $20 fee on short consultations which was always doomed to fail in the Senate has simply added fuel to a still spluttering fire.

Why make such a mis-step for a second time, let alone the first time? Simple: crash through or crash, in action.

As the pro-Government Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph reported, Abbott defied Treasurer Joe Hockey and the former Health Minister Peter Dutton to impose the $20 cut to GP rebates before later backflipping on the policy he had demanded. In a highly damaging leak from the powerful expenditure review committee, senior ministers have confirmed they were told Mr Hockey and Mr Dutton opposed the move during a “heated’’ exchange with the Prime Minister. The warnings included concerns that rolling out new changes to GP consults in the lead up to the Queensland and NSW state election was “crazy’’. Doctors also immediately warned the changes would be passed on to patients, raising fears of even higher charges than the original co-payment.

But the Prime Minister instead insisted on changes including the $20 cut the Medicare rebate for short GP consults. These changes were developed by the Prime Minister’s Office and then costed by the Department of Finance and Health. Tony knows best. Although as the later reversal showed dramatically, it is clear he didn’t, fuelling both front and backbench dis-satisfaction.

Stung by a grassroots backlash to the policy by his own Liberal MPs, Mr Abbott formed the view that it must be dumped while “taking soundings’’ as he drank beers at the cricket on Thursday. These “soundings’ included a threat by senior MPs that they would go public in their opposition to the $20 rebate cut. Mr Abbott then discussed the problem with the new Health Minister Sussan Ley who was forced to disembark from a cruise ship to announce changes after they were rubber stamped by the leadership group on Thursday morning.

Tony Abbott defied Joe Hockey and Peter Dutton to impose “crazy” GP fee.

Abbott looked what he is: rather poor at running an effective collegiate Government.

It is also clear now that the Government is very likely going to fail to introduce “fee deregulation” (read: sell more degrees to overseas students at vastly inflated cost) for Universities, against trenchant opposition from both Universities and students.

The resulting budget chaos from this “tone deaf” policy failure is likely to run into the billions. But that’s not really the core of the problem for the Government. In households with teenage kids and young adults up and down the country, worried children asked their parents, “How will I ever be able to afford to get a degree?” Most of those parents, like members of the Government remembering with embarrassed affection their own free University education, shifted uncomfortably in their seats, and the Government inexorably dropped down yet another peg or two in their estimation.

It should be pretty simple. No one ever wins elections in Australia promising to hurt health and education. Government MPs are now pondering why Abbott appears to want to do both, spending what little political capital the Government began with (as most of the reason for voting for it was really not to vote Labor, after all) with reckless abandon.

Is there really a deficit problem? If there is, the Government has failed to make its case.

There’s a deficit, but is there really a deficit problem? If there is, then the Government has failed to make its case.

The other major issue for the Government is that it simply cannot persuade the people of either the need to tackle a “structural deficit”, nor the means to tackle it if they could even persuade people it exists.

Basically a structural deficit simply means that the country’s economic situation will continue to become more and more indebted as the years pass, because the Government is committed to paying out more money than it is collecting in taxes. You wouldn’t think that was too hard a case to argue, if it’s real. Perhaps stopping using the term “structural deficit” and using something simpler like “living on our national credit card” might be easier for people to grasp, but hey, we’re in the advertising business, what do we know, right?

cut-spendingThe Government’s solution to the situation has been to seek to savagely cut expenditure, mesmerised as they are by Costello’s previous performance in returning the budget to surplus. But unlike Costello’s performance, their cuts are being perceived as falling on the innocent and those least able to cope with them, which offends Aussie sensibilities, especially as people aren’t sure why they’re happening at all (see below).

Critically, their formula ignores the fact that Costello achieved his “economic miracle” based on a growing economy and consistently high overall taxation levels (whilst cutting personal tax, to ensure the Government’s popularity). The introduction of a Goods and Services tax at 10% made all the difference. Pumping up that tax is probably the long-term solution, but the move will be unpopular, and talking about increasing taxes is tough when you were elected on a rock solid promise not to do so. A little less hubris in the run up to the election would have gone a long way … but you can’t tell that to an attack dog.

But anyhow, and this is the crucial point, it is very easy to demonstrate (and Labor will increasingly do so in the run up to the next election) that Australia’s indebtedness is still very low by world standards, and like any household deciding its level of mortgage debt, we’re not really broke at all.

In fact, our mortgage, by world standards, is very small. We are – and feel – prosperous. If we want to splurge a bit, well, hell, why not?

Stop talking, just build it already ...

Stop talking, just build it already …

As the need to invest in national infrastructure is agreed by all sides of politics – we still have no train line to Doncaster in Melbourne, let alone to the bloody airport – the siren call to “keep spending and hang the deficit” seems to be more appealing than any desperation-stakes call to tighten our belts.

Put even more simply, it doesn’t feel like we have an economic crisis, so why are we acting like we do? Especially when the Government can apparently find umpteen billions for a more than fifty new fighter bombers which no-one can actually understand where or how we could even use them.

In other words, the most important job – by far, the, er, most important job – of a Prime Minister is to, er, well, sell the plans of the, er, Government, and, er, Tony Abbott has been, um, staggeringly unsuccessful and, er, unconvincing in doing so.

(Yes, he also has the most appalling public speaking manner, which only makes him appear yet more woeful. And he looks down when answering questions he doesn’t like, which makes him look shifty. One wonders why no-one has the guts to tell him.)

PUP Senator Glenn Lazarus, speaking of the latest debacle over University funding, remarked that you can only polish a turd for so long before the exercise becomes pointless.

It is clear that a significant part of the Liberal Party now hold the same view of their Leader. How long they will keep polishing is, of course, the question.

They could have just listened to us in the first place, of course. And before anyone gets swept up in the Julie Bishop love-in, rest assured that the party will return to Turnbull when they dump Abbott, because he has proven competence, his inoffensiveness will play well against Shorten, and remember, half the Parliamentary party wanted to keep him anyway.

Although he is very unpopular with the hard right, those MPs already eyeing losing their seats on current poll standings understand clearly that he has much broader appeal than any other potential Prime Minister with the general electorate.

If this isn't the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn't make the little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime ...

If this isn’t the next Prime Minister of Australia, then God didn’t make the little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime …

Little wonder, then, that a quiet smile plays on his face most of the time.

Besides his huge personal wealth offering him an out anytime he tires of the Canberra game, it also recommends him to many on his side of politics as a “performer”.

His restraint in not agitating against the usurper Abbott in recent months has been remarkable to observe. This also demonstrates he possesses a strong strategic nous, and admirable patience.

He will need to take the top job on again with plenty of time to re-establish himself, but he has a little while yet before he has to move.

When he does, we suspect he will allow himself to be dragged kicking and screaming into the role, rather than being seen to assassinate his leader as he himself was assassinated. Unless, of course, assassinating him would prove electorally popular as well as a necessary lancing of the Abbott boil to save the deckchairs on the sinking ship. In which case, he will act decisively and with steel, which he possesses deep in his soul. For now, though, he will likely keep his powder dry. Not needing the job is a big part of his charm.

And after all, in the meantime, there’s the sheer fun of watching his replacement swing in the breeze, and revenge, as they say, is always a dish best eaten cold.

plane

If only he WAS going to be flying one of the jets, Abbott might not be quite so enthusiastic.

In the last couple of weeks, we have watched dismayed as Australia has become perhaps the most gung ho of all the world’s nations waiting to wade in and “stop” IS – the so-called Islamic “State”.

Let there be no mistake – we also think these appalling thugs need expunging from the world, and as soon as practicable.

But we are alarmed and worried by the enthusiasm with which the Australian government – especially Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – have not just fallen in lock-step with our Western allies. but have been seen to be stoking the fires of conflict with a triumphalist air that amounts to “Look at us, we’re strong leaders, and you want strong leaders, right?”

We are undoubtedly already seeing the first signs of a deeply unpopular government using the conflict to bolster its electoral fortunes – a so-called “khaki election” looms – and given that our bravura chest-beating almost certainly increases the likelihood of a terrorist attack against Australians, that’s a very risky card to play. Nevertheless, for a Prime Minister with a Government that has proven itself both tone-deaf and gaffe-laden, the conflict with IS is the gift that keeps on giving. “Hey! Let’s all stop worrying about Medicare co-payments and go BOMB something, already!”

This rhetorical style has been echoed to a lesser extent by Cameron in the UK and the Republicans in America, especially the surely past-pensionable John McCain, but much less so by a carefully-nuanced President Obama. It’s almost as if Barack phoned Tony and Dave and said “Ramp it up a bit, will ya, cobbers? We’re a bit bruised over here and I have to be a more laid back.” Surely not?

There’s no question that IS are pretty much the worst of the worst going round at the moment, but let us be absolutely clear what their murderous public tactics are designed to achieve. These are people playing a long game, who have no respect or care for their own lives or for others. They are trying to drag the democratic West, against which they have a visceral, systemic hatred, into a seemingly endless conflict in a war zone where the alliances and influences shift weekly, and where the sectarian divisions are about as deep as it is possible to find them. It’s virtually impossible to “pick winners” in this environment, because this week’s ally is last week’s mortal enemy. As even Abbott himself once presciently remarked about Syria, “it’s a choice between baddies and baddies”.

We have already seen America co-operating with Iran and Russia to attack IS – both countries currently under sanctions and blockades from the West. We have seen America calling openly for Iran to aid in the fight against IS, despite the fact that they already are, a call that has been rejected by the top Ayotollah, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are already doing.

We have moved from being a day away from air strikes against Assad in Syria (thankfully averted when it became clear that the gas attacks on the Syrian public were probably carried out by rebels, and perhaps that the White House knew that all along, and even allegedly that the rebels were deliberately encouraged to do so, under Western guidance) to now cautiously needing to support him against IS, which will lead to the partial abandonment of the non-extremist Syrian opposition, or what may be even more bizarre, the joining of Assad with his former enemies to create a newly viable Syrian state to defeat the IS and Al Nusra insurgents.

How anyone is supposed to conduct a sane rational policy in this environment is beyond us. It’s a floating, shifting miasma of shifting lines, and we see no end to it. We are reasonably sure, though, that bellicose trumpeting is the least helpful thing we can do, especially as we have no idea how that plays amongst the general public in the contested regions.

What IS knows is that in this confused environment, mistakes can and will happen. IS and their backers know that the first time a bunker buster hits a school in Mosul there will be a flood of worldwide sympathy from both within the Sunni Muslim community and without it, and there’ll be a fresh rash of recruits flooding to a simpler, less complex view of the world than that offered by democracy. The angst and confusion created by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza will be seen to be just a shadow of what’s going to happen in northern Iraq and parts of Syria. Indeed, the mistakes (and concomitant slaughter of innocent civilians) are already happening, even if they’re not being widely reported in mainstream media.

Is there any question Bishop sees this as her chance to leap Malcom Turnbull and become Abbott's obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her "death stare", we'd be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

Is there any question Bishop sees this conflict – and that with Russia in the Ukraine – as her chance to leap Turnbull and become Abbott’s most obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her “death stare”, we’d be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

But that’s only the half of it. We cannot deploy hundreds of Australian troops (and thousands of Americans) plus people from all parts of the globe, and not expect some of them to fall into IS hands.

If we see that the road to war has been greased by the appalling executions of journalists and aid workers, not to mention the mass slaughter of civilians, Peshmerga and Iraqi army fighters, then imagine what will happen the first time video is released of a clean-cut Aussie or Yank fighter pilot or special forces hero having his head clumsily sawn off for the camera.

The calls for “boots on the ground” would surely become irresistible, especially if a newly-bolstered Iraqi army makes no discernible progress in recapturing rebel-held areas, or in forming a more broadly based Government capable of yoiking together Sunni and Shia in a workable state.

Having failed once to pacify Iraq, there is little doubt that we are very close to being dragged into the same maelstrom again, with a side serve of Syria and for all we know Lebanon and God knows where else as as well. We do not purport to know what the answer is – although one thing we cannot understand is why the Arab states, who are at least as much at risk from IS as anyone else, especially Saudi Arabia, cannot be prevailed upon to play a much more intrinsic role – perhaps they are so aware of the powder keg many of them sit upon that they dare not risk enraging them by sending ground troops to attack the Sunni IS as 85-90% of Saudis are Sunni – but as a start we could at least begin by not looking so goddamned happy to be heading off to war again.

We are not alone in our caution, which frankly borders on despair. This excellent opinion piece by experienced Middle East hand Paul McGeogh in the Sydney Morning Herald deserves to be widely read. His neat skewering of the lack of Arab co-operation, the unseemly rush to attack and the lack of an exit strategy (yet again) is spot on, and echoes our own concerns.

war sheepIt seems to us that only those who have actually fought wars show real reluctance to engage in them again. That is rarely politicians, especially those who have spent their entirely career crawling slowly up the political ladder.

Having seen the slaughter of innocents, the gore, the messy incompleteness of most military solutions, military men are almost invariably more cautious before setting off to the trenches once more.

But politicians revel in the limelight. It’s that set jaw, that gleam in the eye, the grimly-expressed determination. Not a hint of doubt, or worry, or regret. Nothing is allowed to ruffle their seeming purposefulness.

The prelude to war always looks to us like people with their egos way out of control about to play roulette with other people’s lives, and right now, it sure as hell looks that way again.

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

 

Bad news for Tony Abbott and the Coalition continues today with the publishing of another poll that shows just how dramatically the Liberal and National parties have slumped since 2013’s election.

The latest poll shows the Abbott government is now a full 10 points below its election-winning vote. This is way beyond mere “out of honeymoon” blues.

The Newspoll, published in The Australian on Tuesday, puts Labor ahead of the coalition 55-45 per cent in the two-party preferred vote, a further depressing drop of two points for the coalition since the previous poll two weeks ago.

Primary support for the coalition is also down two points to 35 per cent, from 37 per cent, while Labor is up one point to 37 per cent – two points ahead of the coalition. This result would have seemed impossible in the dark days when Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were engaged in their death struggle. It remains to be seen if Tony Abbott goes down in history as the only man capable of breathing new life into the Labor corpse which seemed crucified, dead, buried, with multiple stakes through it’s heart and then cremated such a short while ago. That they are even competitive again so soon is startling.

It’s not all good news for Labor. Outflanked on the left, the Greens have also gained three points in the primary vote – up to 13 per cent.

Voter dissatisfaction with Tony Abbott has reached the highest level since he became prime minister, 62 per cent, and is his worst personal result since November 2012, The Australian reports. With his approval rating at 31 per cent, Mr Abbott’s net approval of minus 31 points is the worst for a prime minister since Julia Gillard scored minus 34 points just days before she was replaced by Kevin Rudd in June last year, when she was widely considered to be leading the Labor Party to certain disaster. It will not have escaped Liberal and National backbenchers that Abbott now appears to be doing the same.

 

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

 

Whether Abbott’s vast slump into extreme unpopularity will prove enough of a motive for the hard heads in the Liberal Party to replace him with the much more moderate Malcolm Turnbull remains to be seen. We have always been of the view, even before the last election, that Turnbull would be Prime Minister before Christmas 2014. Abbott is both simply too relentlessly self-satisfied and negative to play the role of Prime Minister, a job which requires the ability to reach across the aisle to independents and natural Labor supporters to build a centrists’ coalition.

Abbot is not a conservative. He is not a “one nation” Tory. He is a radical right winger – a born-again Thatcherite, his idol in his youth. As such, he was never going to sit well in power with the essentially small-C conservative Australian public. We are seeing the hubris of Nick Minchin and others on the hard right coming home to roost. They wanted their boy – they got him up by one vote – and now he is proving to be manifestly un-re-electable. A great opposition leader doth not a great prime minister necessarily make. They might have won less big had Turnbull remained at the helm (they might have won bigger, too), but they would have won more enduringly.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has also regained a 10-point lead as better Prime Minister that he took after the budget – on 44 per cent, with Mr Abbott on 34 per cent. We do not believe he is yet “popular” – he has neither the common working man’s touch of a Bob Hawke or the swaggering certainty of a Paul Keating. But he has hardly put a foot wrong yet, revealing that he has both a good “ear” and a smart brain. His meek persona also contrasts nicely with Abbott’s arrogance.

It is well-known that Shorten wishes to keep his powder somewhat dry, and not to “knee-jerk” to every mistake or missed step from the Coalition. Thus former federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan played Shorten’s stalking horse yesterday when said Liberal-National Party backbenchers were too gutless to speak out against the “savage cuts” in the budget, which he sees as reflected in the Newspoll. “If they had any decency, they’d be standing up in the party room and holding the LNP to the promises they made to the people of Australia at the last election but they’re not because they’re gutless,” he told reporters in Brisbane. “There’s no spine in the LNP backbench either at the state level or the federal level. They sit back and meekly accept the savage cuts … which are going to hurt the peace of mind and welfare of families right across Australia.” You can expect to hear a lot more of that as each and every Budget action wends its way trhough the legislative process.

To be fair, Swan was probably speaking from the heart, too. As a Labor backbencher during the early 1990s, Mr Swan led a revolt against the Keating government’s unpopular post-election budget that increased taxes.

Anyhow, the next few months will be interesting indeed. From being one of the most successful Opposition leaders the Liberals have produced in a long time, Abbott may well go down as their most unsuccessful Prime Minister. A recalcitrant Senate filled with newly hopeful Labor and Green representatives is now replaced with one with even greater complexity. At first blush, the new Senate looks like a more amenable one for Abbott. But appearances can be deceiving. Clive Palmer, for example, knows full well that supine agreement with the Government – any Government – would render his populist message irrelevant. There’s no point being “anti” the establishment and then joining it, as the Australian Democrats discovered over the GST, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK and the Free Democrats in Germany can attest more recently.

We can therefore expect regular little eruptions of rebellion from Palmer and his mates, and watching his eye for publicity and gesture politics one can expect those rebellions to be on core issues, such as the politically smart agreement to scrap the unpopular carbon tax and return the dividend to ordinary voters as a reduction in household costs. And if they aren’t core issues, he will trumpet them as such, anyway. And every time he lays a glove on the Government, Abbott will not only look dumb, but weak. A terrible combination.

The essential problem that Abbott faces is that by manufacturing a financial crisis out of a structural deficit (which is not, after all, the same thing) he has critically reduced his room for manoeuvre. As a result, he is now stuck with slogging round the country telling everyone, basically, bad news, for at least the next 18 months.

He might even have pulled that off if his presentation, and that of his very lacklustre Treasurer Joe Hockey, had been less simultaneously preachily self-congratulatory and ham-fisted. But apart from his suddenly incoherent and uncertain delivery (has any senior politician anywhere in the world ever said “Er” so often?) he has also wedged himself by a serious of actions that were never going to get through the Senate, and which were guaranteed to appear mean and un-necessary.

The most obvious example is the GP co-payment, which looks and smacks like nothing more than soak the poor, and should never have been advanced in a month of Sundays. But once advanced, it was not “sold”, beyond a repeated mantra that this was somehow “for the good of the country”. Scores of worried little old ladies and the chronically ill duly queued up on talk-back radio stations of all political inclinations to tearfully ask what would become of them now they couldn’t afford to go to see their doctor. The message that the co-payment was theoretically designed to be capped at a maximum of $70 a year completely failed to cut through. Once again, the central Liberal Party message-meisters and their political puppets have been shown to be far less competent and aware than they are often painted.

Denis Napthine. If he's not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

Denis Napthine. If he’s not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

(A similar problem assails the Victorian Liberal and National Parties, where two years of good financial management and the resulting announcement of the biggest-ever infrastructure spending program in the State’s history – in any State’s history, actually – is being completely overwhelmed by the unpopularity of the Abbott Government. Liberal and National Party publicists seem at a loss to know how to punch their message through. (There’s a clue in this paragraph by the way, boys.) Meanwhile Denis Napthine despairs in his eyrie and Daniel Andrews hugs himself with glee, saying very little, cheerfully waiting to fall into office. But that’s another story.)

Those surrounding Abbott need to understand this: it’s one thing to drag down an unpopular Prime Minister in whom trust has been lost. It’s quite another to sell a swingeing austerity package that very few people think is needed in the first place.

They – and he – need to lift their game very fast, or yibbidah yibbidah, that’s all folks.

 

 

English: Kevin Rudd, 26th Prime Minister of Au...

Kevin Rudd, 26th Prime Minister of Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes, when all is lost – as it surely is for Kevin Rudd and the Australian Labor Party – all artifice gets stripped away, and people speak with simple passion.

It is often seen when someone loses an election. Shorn of any need to obfuscate, they speak simply, from the heart, from their deepest convictions, and they move their audience much more than is common in today’s days of stage-managed soundbites and staying ruthlessly “on message”.

For that reason, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Kevin Rudd’s best speech ever is his concession speech this Saturday evening. Certainly better than his speech on taking power in 07, which was woeful.

Last night on ABC TV Kevin Rudd spoke from the heart on the issue of gay marriage.

It cannot have been easy for Rudd to change his point of view on this topic, as he did some five months ago. He is a regular Churchgoer in the most 1950s state in the Western world. Parts of Queensland make the Deep South of America’s Bible Belt look like a well-considered debating arena.

Nothing seems to obsess the Christian fundamentalist lobby like the issue of homosexuality, and, for that matter, sex generally. For all that pastors fulminate about sexual matters, they are hardly mentioned in the Bible at all, which is essentially either an historical record of the Jewish people, (the Old Testament) or the culmination of Messianic prophesy and the creation of a new covenant between Humanity and God (the New Testament). In reality, sex really hardly features at all. And homosexuality, as I explain in this article, may not even be mentioned in the Bible whatsoever.

The Bible, certainly the New Testament, is all about inclusivity, being slow to judgement and quick to love, and about caring for the marginalised in society. Faced with the staring-eyed intensity of a fundamentalist Christian last night, Rudd rose to the occasion rather splendidly.

If Rudd had found his “inner Rudd” weeks ago, even years ago, he might now be heading for an election victory. After all, the Australian economy is the envy of the developed world.

Sure, the man has huge character flaws, and simply doesn’t get on with people, as we have enunciated before. And the Government he led, followed by the one Gillard led, was unquestionably dysfunctional as a result, and he carries his own substantial share of the responsibility for that.

The result of that dysfunction – essentially, the inability to work together as a team, and to project the Government’s considerable achievements to the public in a manner that the public can consume – is about to deliver Australia holus bolus into the clutches of the most right wing front bench any Parliament in this country has seen since Federation. The cabal surrounding Abbott is ruthlessly hard-right economically and (though they seek to hide it) socially very conservative too.

Unless Abbott reinvents himself and his colleagues (and I will not be holding my breath) the wailing and gnashing of teeth will be substantial. Indeed, the rending of the Australian political character could well be as severe as that in Britain under Margaret Thatcher, but this time for no good reason other than the centre-left’s comprehensive loss of principle and direction. There is no rampant union movement in Australia, holding back productivity progress – very much the opposite in fact. Our industries have been ripened in the hot gale of worldwide competition since Keating and Hawke. Our public service is hardly bloated by international standards.

Anyway, we will put a prediction of the election result up before Saturday* to see if we can not only continue our much-vaunted tradition of calling every election in America, the UK and Australia correctly since 1978, but this time, as the consensus is that Abbott cannot lose, we will try to get the actual seat count right (as we got the electoral college vote right in the first Obama election, much to our pocket’s pleasure – and there are no bets being taken on Abbott’s victory any more, so maybe you can make a quid or two predicting the final seat count).

What is certain is Rudd will lose. He was always, probably, on a hiding to nothing. What is at least possible is that if he had more performances in this election like that in the video above, he might have had a chance. The history of Kevin Rudd, in many ways, will surely always be that of lost opportunity.

*The complete imponderable is which minor parties or independents will win seats in the Senate election. I won’t even begin to make a guess there, as divining the preference flow from the multiplicity of candidates is well nigh impossible. Anything could happen – the ballot paper in Victoria is over a metre wide!

Nope. Same old crap.

Nope. Same old same old.

I have written at length in the past on the essential tragic flaw in the on-going circus that is Kevin Rudd, which is basically, in my view, that he has a much higher opinion of himself than other people do.

With good contacts inside the Labor Party, I think the kindest thing I have ever heard said about him is “megalomaniac”.

The general public finds it difficult to appreciate that he is genuinely detested by many people whose support he needs – detested as too clever by half, too full of himself, and utterly selfish, not to mention seemingly devoid of the little personal courtesies that make up so much of what is required in leading any organisation, and a political party in particular, stacked full, as they are, with people who desperately want to be loved.

So what is the ultimate outcome of yesterday’s ALP chaos? Well, there are a number.

Greater love hath no man than he give up his friends for his life. – Jeremy Thorpe

Firstly, it is hard to over-estimate the level of betrayal and distress felt by those who campaigned for, publicly supported, and organised a ballot for Rudd to stand for the leadership. They report being “gutted” by his backdown.

The point about Crean publicly calling for a ballot for a man who he so publicly repudiated just a year ago was to allow Rudd to get past his previous commitment not to challenge a sitting leader. Let there be no doubt about this; Crean’s sudden exocet-like intervention in Labor’s leadership crisis was carefully co-ordinated with key Rudd backers, and obviously with Rudd’s knowledge, and implicit in the move was the assumption that Crean’s switch from Gillard would bring four or five votes with him, making the difference between just losing and victory for Rudd, especially as a couple of locked-in Rudd votes were overseas. This thing was on a knife-edge.

When it transpired that those votes possibly wouldn’t follow Crean – despite his desperately courageous intervention which was made, in his eyes, to prevent a debacle in September for the party he loves – Rudd was left looking at a small loss to Gillard.

And at that moment, with history watching, Rudd “bottled it”.

Despite not quite having the numbers he could (and perhaps should, depending on your point of view) have wounded Gillard fatally, and another ballot (in as little as a week, or ten days) would have delivered the leadership to him by acclamation, especially once his people had time to organise more thoroughly. In a Labor Party where the ferment rivals that of a good barrel of real ale left too long to bubble, no leader with Gillard’s poll ratings could possibly hold on with a majority of just a handful in caucus. Despite her famed Welsh stubborn-ness, events would have overtaken her.

A current Twitter tend is #SimonCreaned. How are the mighty fallen.

A current Twitter tend is #SimonCreaned. How are the mighty fallen.

But Rudd chose, instead, (and instead, specifically, of facing the ego-bruising experience of being rejected by his caucus colleagues for a second time, albeit temporarily), to wrap himself in the fallacious argument that he wouldn’t stand again for leader unless backed by an overwhelming majority of the party room. That was never going to happen, of course, he knew it in advance. It was merely a feeble excuse for a crucial loss of nerve. With the smell of blood in the air and alarums various all around, Rudd exited the battlefield, leaving his allies to be slaughtered in his stead.

In refusing at the last hurdle, Rudd reveals himself to this writer, at least, as a rather prissy and self-absorbed egoist without the guts to pursue high office with adequate determination. As those around Caesar tried to plunge in their gladius’s, Rudd tip-toed away rather than get splashed with gore.

Fulminating on the sidelines, smirking quietly to himself as others thrash around, yes, he is up for that. But when a return to power genuinely beckoned, and with it the opportunity to at least ameliorate certain disaster for Labor at the next election, he fatally let down his supporters, many of whose careers are now publicly trashed and seriously damaged, perhaps terminally.

In this loss of nerve, one can see clearly the little boy Rudd, the “Well, if they won’t all play with me the way I want then I shall take my bat and ball and go home” Rudd. The hurt child that never quite grew up.

So the first outcome is this: Rudd supporters will not forgive him in a hurry, if ever. That obvious fact (and one can only imagine the recriminations afterwards) may be behind today’s prompt statement from Rudd that he will never stand for the leadership of the party again. Of course, no-one who has watched his behaviour over the years can give much credence to such an assurance. If the seals of office were waved under his nose again some nonsense about “the good of the party and the nation” would be cobbled together to allow him an intellectual excuse for running again. But in the meantime, brand Kevin is so tarnished as to be virtually un-burnishable. As Yoda would say, “Easy, it is, to give up the thing that no one wants to give you.”

So what the hell do we all do now?

More critically, the Australian people will be utterly dismayed. For reasons which are quite obvious – the fact that his original fall from power was seen by many as unnecessary and very poor form on behalf of the conspirators – and the fact that he clearly is clever and has a sense of purpose, curious though that sense may be – but most of all simply because he isn’t the fatally un-likeable Julia Gillard – Rudd retained the affection of many Labor supporters and non-aligned voters, and even some Liberals, especially those who dislike the rightward drift of their party. He straddles the centre ground of Australian politics in a manner which is always popular in this essentially small-c conservative nation.

Now he has betrayed not only his own supporters but all those in the country who are desperately distressed at the collapse of Labor as a viable vehicle for their aspirations and which is supposed to protect them from what looks like a highly ideologically-driven and – many suspect – brutally insensitive incoming Liberal-led Coalition.

Oh Lord, please help me keep my big mouth shut until September 15th. Amen.

If Howard was bad, they feel implicitly, then Abbott will be worse.

Despite his attempt to present a small target and to curb his wilder side, they perceive that he is Howard without the gravitas or the common touch, a nasty, gnashing, dyed-in-the-wool mis-truster of Government and the common people.

They see savage cuts coming, a return to workplace warfare, social conservatism, and all the baggage of class warfare resurrected again and aimed at those least able to defend themselves.

And above all, they know Gillard can’t beat him – after all, she’s failed to do so once already.

And against this prospect, Rudd chose to preserve his own sniffy dignity rather than chuck his hat into the ring after twelve months of making it perfectly clear to Blind Freddie he still believed in belonged in there.

Well, Kevin, Australians are not sophisticated political observers in the main – life is too wonderful, generally, to waste too much time pondering the goings on of the chattering political classes – but they can smell bullshit with dung-detectors that are as finely attuned as any in the democratic world. And they don’t like wimps.

The national character is, ferociously, to stand up for what you believe, even if you’re going to get a thumping. (One reason that Malcom Turnbull is so widely respected.)

Overnight, therefore, Rudd will have ruined his public standing, and again, probably, terminally. I expect to see that reflected in opinion polls within a day or so.

Goodbye, Labor, it was nice knowing you. At least sometimes.

The last and most obvious result from the non-ballot yesterday is that Labor has revealed it would much rather lose the next election, even catastrophically, and retreat to the Opposition benches than hold its collective nose and re-install Rudd. The ultimate conclusion to be drawn by observing the inwardly-focused bubble that is most of the ALP caucus is that they, too, lost courage at precisely the moment they needed to find some, and returned, instead, to their predilection for childish in-fighting and sophistry.

Such holier-than-though Kamikaze behaviour is more common on the left than it is on the right, which tends to be more focused on power and concomitantly less concerned with the close niceties of policy. (The recent furore over carbon trading that saw Turnbull axed was an aberration and more to do with factional infighting than anything else.)

Parties on the left often seem to emulate the suicidal tendencies of the People’s Front For Judea in the movie “Life of Brian”, where the ultimate goal is to dramatically eviscerate oneself as a noble gesture.

Some time back this mindset saw the demise of the Australian Democrats, and thus the inevitable rise of the much more “deep green” Greens, which has had a profound effect on the Australian body politic. Lord knows what the impact of this decision on the ALP itself may be in the long run, but some form of realignment on the left and centre is certain not beyond the bounds of possibility, especially give the ossified nature of the ALP organisation and its falling membership, and the lurch to the right of the Liberals in particular.

Actively mistrusted, even hated. I have never, in 35 years, heard it expressed so vehemently.

Let us call a spade a f****** shovel: in more than thirty five years of active involvement in left-centre politics, either as a participant or a writer, I have never experienced a mood in a country more toxic for the leadership of the Parliament than I now do with Gillard and Swan and their immediate coterie.

Ironically, it is not just the memory of the original Rudd knifing, unpopular as that was, nor is it the stumbling from embarrassing gaffe to gaffe that has characterised so much of this hamstrung Government, that has caused the complete loss of faith.

In fact, ” ordinary people” know the Government has tried to do some good things.

But there has been a comprehensive failure to sell those initiatives to the public.

And past all the spin doctors, the advisers, the apparatchiks and the offsiders, the ultimate responsibility lies with Gillard and Swan themselves, and especially with Gillard.

It is not enough to have advisers. One has to take their advice. Way back in the days of Gillard v Abbott Mk 1 we saw this uneasy arrangement with the apparent dumping of presentational advice that wasn’t working and the hilarious emergence of “real Julia”. Someone told her that was a good idea. Really.

To my eyes, Gillard has never really recovered from that moment onwards. Apparently untrusting of whatever advice is on offer (at least, by observing her behaviour), she has consistently refused to moderate her tedious, lecturing, uninspiring and downright boring delivery of everything she has to say, both inside and outside the Parliament.

Hers is a failure in many areas and at many levels: a failure to control her own party, a failure to see beyond her own intellectual priorities to respond to the desires of the country, instead choosing to do things she knows need doing, (and, yes, good on her), but then failing to understand that the country needs to be taken with her.

That’s why most of all hers is a failure to recognise that the Government’s primary weakness was and is her inability to articulate in an easy and engaging manner what she was trying to achieve.

having teeth pulled without anaesthetic.

For anything other than complete political junkies, this is the enterainment equivalent of having teeth pulled without anaesthetic.

I have watched pubs and living rooms erupt into bile every time she comes on the TV screen – “God I hate the way she talks”, “F***, she’s so boring!”, “What is she droning on about this time?”

And the trend has got steadily worse. When she finally allowed some genuine passion to show throw – over Abbott’s misogyny – she saw an immediate lift in her polling, and even murmurs of approval.

She became, momentarily, ” Prime Ministerial”.

But then she promptly returned to the tones of exactly what she is underneath whatever gloss her minders try and put on her, an overly self-confident lawyer trained to couch everything in terms stripped of any passion or colour, and delivered in a manner so downbeat one often wonders if someone should check her pulse.

Even Margaret Thatcher, unquestionably the most transformative post-war politician in any major Western democracy whatever one thought of her policies, took note of the image consultants, the voice trainers, and those who taught her the pace, tone, and mannerisms to deliver powerful public oratory. Gillard has never paused to do this, never lowered herself to that level, and she has led her party to the slaughterhouse as a result.

Ultimately, in failing to improve herself, Gillard has shown a fatal inability to lead.

Now, as the nominal head of a caucus stripped of key talents, a caucus half of whom now publicly believe she is the wrong person to do the job – all talk of “no opposition” and a decisive result is, of course, just so much cant – without a credible candidate to oppose her to take the party into the election, with a slavering Opposition dissolving into delight at the mess in front of them, with a public in disbelief at the antics of the last 48 hours, let us be in no doubt. Barring a miracle which no one expects, Labor is looking down the barrel of a massively awful election result.

How curious it must be, for those MPs sitting in seats with anything under about a 10% margin, to contemplate the near certainty of their defeat in September. How they will be scrambling for diplomatic postings, something nice at the UN of WHO, perhaps, a decent visiting Professorship at a reputable University, or a sinecure in some quasi-Government or policy job just beyond the clutches of the incoming Coalition.

Will they be focusing on their jobs as constituency MPs or Parliamentary officers between now and September? Will they hell. The rats aren’t just deserting a sinking ship, they’ve been off it and swimming to shore for some time. And everyone knows it.

The point.

For democracy to function, it requires at least two parties operating with vibrancy and determination, a genuine “contest of ideas”.

Even non-Labor people must look at the overall state of our body politic and wonder, sadly, “How the hell did it ever come to this?”

Because that is  the ultimate wash-up of the ballot-that-never-was. How the hell did our democracy ever become so dysfunctional and incompetent?

And that, Dear Reader, should concern everyone.

It seems voters are now very obviously tiring of Tony Abbott’s incessant negativity and macho attitudes. How long will the powers-that-be resist a move to the much more electorally acceptable Malcolm Turnbull? Our bet? As it always has been, before Xmas 2012 or soon after.

(Yahoo and others)

Labor’s attacks on Tony Abbott’s character – he’s been painted as a misogynist and a liar – appear to be taking its toll, with voter support for him at its lowest level since he became opposition leader three years ago.

The Australian’s latest Newspoll shows that less than one third of voters, 27 per cent, are satisfied with the way Mr Abbott is doing his job, and the highest number on record, 63 per cent, are dissatisfied with his performance.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard maintains her two-month lead over Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister, 46 per cent to 32 per cent.

Despite Mr Abbott’s troubles, the coalition continues to hold solid primary vote support, 43 per cent, up from 41 per cent two weeks ago, while Labor’s primary vote is unchanged on 36 per cent.

The Newspoll survey, taken over the weekend, shows the coalition holds a two-point lead over Labor – 51 per cent to 49 per cent – on a two-party-preferred basis using preference flows at the last election.

Ms Gillard and other female ministers have accused Mr Abbott of misogyny and sexist behaviour, while Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has accused him of lying.

Last Friday, while announcing that Australia was prepared to join a second Kyoto Protocol treaty to set new targets for cutting greenhouse gases, Mr Combet said everything that Mr Abbott had said about climate change was “complete bulls**t”.

Mr Abbott’s net satisfaction – the difference between satisfaction and dissatisfaction – is the worst it has ever been at minus 36.

Ms Gillard’s personal support was virtually unchanged, with satisfaction on 37 per cent, up two points, and dissatisfaction on 52 per cent, giving her a net satisfaction rating of minus 15.

UPDATED

In  a Fairfax Nielsen poll published today (19 Nov) Mr Abbott’s approval eased one point to 36 per cent. His disapproval is steady at 60 per cent, although the Coalition maintains a winning margin on a two-party preferred basis.

His net approval is down a point to minus 24, a new personal low.

Voter approval for Prime Minister Julia Gillard remains steady on 47 per cent and, with her disapproval steady on 48 per cent, she has an unchanged net approval of minus one, markedly better, note, than the Newspoll above.

Ms Gillard maintains a nine-point lead over Mr Abbott in the preferred Prime Minister stakes at 51 per cent (up a point) to Mr Abbott’s 42 per cent (up two points) in the national poll of 1,400 people taken from Thursday to Saturday, after the announcement of a Royal Commission into Child Abuse.

I am often criticised (in 99% of cases by ironed-on conservatives or Republicans) for being too critical about the quality of American politics, (which I freely admit fascinates me), and the performance of the right in particular. So I was pleased to see today’s report that the most popular politician (by opinion poll) in Australia appears to completely agree with my point of view.

Malcolm Turnbull says American politics is becoming 'profoundly dysfuntional'.

As reported in The Age, re-reporting an interview with The Monthly, published today, Malcolm Turnbull says American politics is becoming ‘profoundly dysfunctional’. 

He has sharply criticised the corrupting power of money in the US and described America as looking ”like a country that is barely governed”.

The former Liberal leader and member of  Tony Abbott’s shadow cabinet (note, “Liberal” in Australian political terms means the main Conservative party, and current Official Opposition, and not the “progressive” position it means in America, nor the centrist position it means in the UK), says American politics is becoming ”profoundly dysfunctional”.

He attacks the Republican idea that the budgetary situation can be improved by cutting the taxes of the wealthy as ”just bizarre”, and describes the right-wing Tea Party as extreme, reactionary and radical.

Author of the interview article Robert Manne writes: ”He thinks that American voluntary voting encourages Republican extremism and the search for ‘hot-button issues’, like abortion or guns or gay marriage or Obama as a secret Muslim.

”He is concerned about the fragmentation of opinion and collapse of the rational centre. He is profoundly concerned about the ‘self-evident’ corrupting influence of ‘the power of money’.”

Mr Turnbull is also very critical of the Iraq war – in which Australia was an enthusiastic US ally under the previous conservative Howard government.

”The argument for saying it was a mistake and misconceived is a very powerful one … There are plenty of people on both sides of politics in the US who take that view.’

I am delighted to hear a conservative politician break ranks on this, which is surely now one of the most accepted facts in international conflict studies. The Iraq war was launched on lies, conducted without adequate legal authority, with no exit strategy, managed appallingly badly by Rumsfeld and others, and has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Hardly a family in Iraq has been untouched.

Mr Turnbull, who agreed to the interview on condition he would not be asked about his leader Mr Abbott, says climate change denialism is ”contrary to the views of, I think, just about everybody in the Coalition party room”. Manne however notes Mr Abbott once described as ”absolute crap” the view that climate scientists had a consensus position.

The interesting thing for me is how much more mainstream Turnbull is than the current leadership of his party. I have little doubt that were they to dump Abbott for him, (Abbott having only defeated him by one vote in the party room, remember, after a well-organised right-wing coup), that they would be elected in the largest landslide in Australian political history, regardless of how well the Government does in the next 18 months.

Almost unthinkably by current received wisdom, as things stand, I firmly believe Abbott is on track to lose the un-loseable election.

We will see.