Thursday, 11 December 2014    

David Rowe, AFR

David Rowe, AFR

It’s all looking so eerily familiar. An unpopular leader of an unpopular government. Partisan supporters whining that they have all the right policies but struggling with the “message” – as though for today’s politicians “message” isn’t pretty well all they do.

The despair of conservative commentators isn’t just from the lousy polls, for this government they’re hardly anything new. What seems to have especially brought it on recently is that pressing the old button of strutting around international shin-digs like the G20 didn’t seem to work.

As The Australian noted, the G20 should have been a “personal triumph for Tony Abbott and a high water mark for the government”. Yet despite all the posturing about shirt fronts in the run up to it, and the considered verdict of seasoned commentators that foreign policy was at least one bright spot, the biggest foreign policy event of the year seems to have barely changed voters attitude to the government. If anything, going by the polls since, it may even have made it worse.

But it’s not as though conservatives wouldn’t have been warned. The last big international gala hosted on Australian soil, the APEC Summit in September 2007, didn’t do much for the host at the time either. Then, the visit of George Bush only served to remind that the benefits of the War on Terror had faded for the Man of Steel and things were about to move on for Howard, as well as Bush.

This time, despite attempts by conservatives to draw attention to some communiqué about growth, or something, the real news was Obama suddenly taking the lead on climate change – six years after Copenhagen, when he screwed over another Australian Prime Minister when he didn’t. It seems these days, Australian Prime Ministers can never get the timing right. For Australian Prime Ministers to be out of sync with US foreign policy is bad enough, but it’s especially a problem when they are looking as vulnerable as they have been over recent years.

We are now well into the second act of what has been almost five years of the old political parties trying to reassert themselves, with the second act of this piss-poor Thermidor travelling much like the first. But instead of Labor’s institutional push to regain control, from the union leadership and power brokers, with the Liberals, Australia’s last political party, it has been ideological.

But a third act is not a given. Unlike for Gillard, for Abbott there may not be resolution either externally, or internally. It is not obvious behind the government’s poor polling, but there is a basic problem in Labor’s strategy at the moment. By being a small target, that is what they may very well get it being about at election time if it comes down to the smallest target of all, competence.

Labor has still not broken, nor even attempted to tackle, the basic link made by the Coalition between the ructions during the Gillard-Rudd period and the debt, as two signs of the same dysfunctionality. This issue of competence is normally discussed as “economic management”, but not in the way it is often understood, i.e. as the government being responsible for the economy.

In reality voters don’t see the government having that much control. An economy souring might do as much harm to the Liberals as the economy not souring did good for Rudd/Swan. It is not that voters’ see government as controlling the economy, rather just not stuffing things up and making it worse. Without having tackled this, Shorten may see the polling lead melt away as an election approaches.

But it is the need to be seen as competent that means that there may not be an internal resolution to the government’s problems either, since the clearest sign of incompetence is understood as leadership destabilisation. Abbott faces no real contender, with no real alternative, as Gillard did with Rudd.

Instead it will be done in code and through the media. With all the outrage over the hypocrisy of Pyne petitioning against ABC cuts his own government introduced, it was little noticed that he was also distancing himself from the leadership position – just as Turnbull did the other direction by barely attempting to cover up Abbott’s pre-election promise not to cut at all.

There is the discrete undermining of Abbott via attacks on the PM’s Office and especially his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin. And of course wonderful examples like this morning’s report of Kevin Andrews shafting Credlin while calling for unity at the same time.

With no centre of authority, but no way to resolve it, what we are likely to have is continuing fragmenting and positioning in the government, as Ministers intrigue and jockey for influence like Versailles without the Sun King.

The biggest danger for the government in all this is pointed to by Paul Kelly, that the 2009 settlement, to prevent the Liberals tearing themselves apart over climate change, starts to unravel.

Climate change is an issue for the Liberals not because of their deep passion over the environment, but because it exposes the biggest flaw in the Abbott leadership: it being out of sync with international foreign policy, especially the US’s. If it’s difficult for Labor, it is even more so for the Liberals whose authority has traditionally relied on their closeness to the leading power of the day. It is no coincidence that the biggest challenge emerging at the moment on climate change is not from Turnbull, but from the Foreign Minister.

A Prime Minister being undermined on climate change and by a truculent Foreign Minister. As said, it is all looking eerily familiar.



Wednesday, 22 October 2014    


In 1972, the AWU, one of Australia’s largest union, then and now, officially abandoned its commitment to the White Australia Policy. If some find it surprising that the glorious AWU left its distinctly inglorious past, er, rather late, it perhaps shows how much we now view the past through the prism of the political settlement that followed, a political settlement that Whitlam had a leading role in making, but at the time of his death, is now unravelling. Read more …


Home front

Thursday, 28 August 2014    

So I imagine that from time to time they would want a different captain but nevertheless, that’s what he said, that we’re all part of Team Australia and you’re our captain.

Captain Australia, 20 August 2014

A curious obliviousness has descended over the political scene and its commentary to the escalation of tensions over Iraq. Partly it comes from the desperation of a government thinking that it will solve its significant political problems. Partly it comes from the opposition’s fear it will as well, on top of the normal shutdown it has over anything to do with national security, especially under its current leader.

But it’s also to do with the complications behind the current escalation that neither side wants to see. Read more …



Monday, 11 August 2014    

David Rowe: AFR

David Rowe: AFR

What this government is trying to do is trying to stop Australian Muslims travelling overseas to murder other Muslims. They’re going to Iraq, they’re going to Syria. There are Sunnis targeting Shiites. This is not an anti-Muslim attitude; this is an attitude that’s trying to save the lives of other Muslims from being attacked by Australian Muslims. Read more …


Disaster politics

Thursday, 31 July 2014    


We’ve got a situation where Tony Abbott’s become the strongest leader in the world on this issue.

Gerard Henderson

Right now there could well be remains exposed to the European summer, exposed to the ravages of heat and animals.

Tony Abbott

As a prime minister of a country, how does a tragedy like this affect you at a personal level?

Fran Kelly


Context is all.

The last few weeks have reminded that in recent years something rather unpleasant has entered politics, and the commentary that surrounds it. It is not only unpleasant to watch but has caused politicians to fumble on sensitive issues and commentators to completely mis-read the impact on the electorate at home. Read more …


The confusions of anti-politics

Tuesday, 15 July 2014    

Political sophisticate meets naïve political rube, from the US.

Political sophisticate meets naïve political rube, from the US.

I’m determined to get on with governing

T Abbott 11 July 2014

I’m determined to get on with the job of governing,

J Gillard 31 January 2013

The Labor Party was formed to represent the workers, the Liberals to represent business, the Nationals to represent people in rural and regional Australia. But Palmer United was formed simply out of hatred for Campbell Newman.

Senior Coalition member talking to Laurie Oakes

We have got situation normal.

T Abbott

If this is situation normal, why doesn’t it feel like it?

As commentators have said, dealing with tricky players in the Palmer United Party isn’t new. Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon weren’t exactly a barrel of laughs for the Rudd government either. Even the Australian Democrats on their high horse could give Howard headaches.

The difference is not so much Palmer, but the weak position of the government that is negotiating with him. Read more …


What a technocracy looks like

Friday, 30 May 2014    

The entire gamut of Australian politics. From A to B.

The entire gamut of Australian politics. From A to B.

The South Australian Labor Party is so clearly out of talent it has to reach into the ranks of the Liberal Party to fill its Ministry.

Liberal MP Jamie Biggs’s response to Hamilton-Smith’s defection. Perhaps not quite thought through.

If Queensland continues to show with its latest product that it remains the home of anti-politics, on Tuesday South Australia showed, in fairly spectacular fashion, that it remains the home of its flipside, the political class’s response of technocracy.

Hamilton-Smith’s defection is, of course, not the first seen in Australian politics, nor is it the first time this state Labor government has had political opponents in the cabinet, with ex-Liberals like Rory McEwan and National MP Karlene Maywald in the Rann Labor Cabinet. Yet there are some features of not only the defection, but the response to it, that make it illustrative of the curious state of politics today. Read more …


Budget panto goes wrong

Monday, 19 May 2014    

If there is one thing that sums up the contradiction in the government’s position that is behind what is turning into a political disaster, is that a few weeks before the Budget came out, the Commission of Audit proposed one of the most radical overhauls of the Australian economy in fifty years – to one of the weakest governments capable of implementing it. Read more …


The ties that bind

Tuesday, 22 April 2014    

Cutting funding to ICAC would be a coward’s response to the most important accountability mechanism in the state.

John Kaye, Greens Upper House NSW MP

It’s perhaps understandable that an Upper House MP may be unaware, relying as they do on the benefice of party machines, that the “most important accountability mechanism” in NSW remains the electorate, which in the last election did a pretty good job of making a tawdry and corrupt Labor government accountable by removing not only the Premier, but the entire Ministry and over half of the government MPs from their jobs. Beat that ICAC! Read more …


A hollow debate

Monday, 7 April 2014    

There are some important issues arising from the government’s move to repeal 18C in the Racial Discrimination Act. Unfortunately they are obscured by posturing anti-racism on the left and posturing libertarianism on the right when in reality it is about neither. Read more …


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