Once more, with feeling

Wednesday, 2 December 2009 

The argument on climate change is absolute crap. However the politics of this are tough for us. Eighty per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.

T Abbott Pyrenees Advocate October 2009

It could indeed help the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change talks if Australia agreed in advance not only to a carbon emission target but also a mechanism to deliver it.

T Abbott The Australian October 2009

Far from being an arrogant assertion of his own views, Turnbull’s assessment that the government’s emissions trading scheme should ultimately be allowed to pass is his attempt to save the Coalition from a fight it can’t win.

T Abbott The Australian July 2009

I probably should apologise now for my errors in the past, make a clean breast of it, and ask the public to judge me from this point.

T Abbott 1 December 2009

When they say Abbott is a ‘conviction’ politician, do they just mean ‘unpopular’? Certainly he was by far the least electable candidate the Liberals could have chosen. But he is certainly not their most consistent. In fact, it is hard to think of any senior Liberal who has vacillated and flip-flopped as much as Tony Abbott over the last few months on the very issue he has decided to make into a point of principle.

Does Tony Abbott think human activity has caused climate change? It’s hard to tell. He told an audience in Beaufort a few weeks ago that the climate change argument was “crap” and that he was only going along with it for political convenience. Then by last week he was openly telling the media his doubts that the climate was even warming at all, talking about the world cooling since 2000 and that the climate was warmer when Romans were growing grape vines on Hadrian’s wall. Now “released” to say what he really feels, he says he believed in the importance of climate change action all along!

Does Tony Abbot believe it was important to get an ETS out before Copenhagen? Once again, it’s hard to tell. He seemed to believe in it in October, but certainly didn’t yesterday. He told Kerry O’Brien last night that he had to say he did out of loyalty, given his position on the front bench. But don’t ‘conviction’ politicians avoid advancing their careers by accepting positions that make them say things they don’t believe?

Does Tony Abbott think it’s a clever idea to run an election campaign on climate change? Umm, not sure. He told the press gallery yesterday, after they cruelly implied he was inconsistent, to check an article written in The Australian in July this year. In the article, titled “TURNBULL IS RIGHT, THE COALITIION (sic) CAN’T WIN THIS FIGHT”, someone called Tony Abbott had a very good piece of advice for the new Opposition Leader. Don’t have a fight on climate change. The new Opposition Leader seems to have ignored it.

So on what to do about climate change, whether its necessary to do anything at all about it, and whether even to make an issue about it, we have no real idea what this leader, who now gives the Liberals a “clear direction”, actually thinks. The only way to get such clarity would be only to listen to his latest pronouncements made yesterday. No wonder he was pleading with the Canberra press gallery yesterday for a fresh start.

The press gallery picked up the distinct, probably correct, impression that Abbott wasn’t expecting to win yesterday. Certainly that is the only conclusion from what was a bizarre, and clearly unprepared, press conference. Given that Abbott’s leadership campaign was on (sort of), then off, then back on again in a matter of a few days, it would suggest it wasn’t that serious.

Unfortunately, what happened was that Abbott’s original intention of drawing an alternative candidate out who was more malleable than Turnbull to hide behind, went wrong. Hockey did emerge but under such unfavorable circumstances, that he was forced to consider a conscience vote, certainly not pleasing the old guard who needed to make an issue out of this nor the Turnbull camp who needed to beat them on it. So Abbott had to re-emerge as a candidate so the old guard could avoid politically debasing themselves. The result was a narrow win and Abbott now having to make the best of a position the old guard never wanted to be in, to have their electoral bankruptcy exposed.

If an election is coming soon, what it will be is a re-run of the 2007 election but probably with less of the sham industrial relations pantomime that many in the left thought was a terrific idea at the time, but saw Labor’s vote erode significantly during the campaign. It may be tempting for Labor to paint Abbott as extremist, but that would more make themselves feel good rather than key into reality or the electorate. The main point of Abbott, and the reason he is vacillating so wildly, is that he is trying to carry on the Howard trick of flip-flopping while calling himself a conviction politician, but without the conditions that would let him get away with it.

Abbott is clinging to a past political tradition that died in 2007. So we had a few references to Whitlam and the 1970s in the press conference yesterday, thereby locking in that critical demographic, over 60s Liberal voters. The content of the tradition that Abbott is clinging to has hollowed out, leaving him awfully exposed to that most damming of accusations, of playing political games, this time with the future of the planet. The government itself is a little exposed to this with a perception that the bill is only being rushed through before Copenhagen so Rudd can play political games himself on the global stage. But that will be gone in a few weeks and then the government should be left with a clear run.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 2 December 2009.

Filed under Political figures, Tactics

Tags: , , ,


20 responses to “Once more, with feeling”

  1. John Kelly on 2nd December 2009 8:00 am

    ”…when Romans were growing grape vines on Hadrian’s wall.”

    I believe it’s too cold in Britain for grapes.

    Yes I was thoroughly surprised when Tony Abbot won the vote – almost as surprised as the man himself. Your surmise that he wanted Joe Hockey there, to hide behind, is distinctly plausible.

    His performance on last night’s 7.30 Report was scratchy. He seemed to mumble (hmmm) a lot as Kerry O’Brien was asking the questions. This is something too, that John Howard used to do frequently, particularly when he was stressed. Abbott seems to have picked this up from his old boss.

  2. David Jackmanson on 2nd December 2009 9:13 am

    “So we had a few references to Whitlam and the 1970s in the press conference yesterday, thereby locking in that critical demographic, over 60s Liberal voters.”

    Ooh, get *him*!

    But seriously, I noticed this in the press conference too and wondered why the hell Abbott thought making Whitlam a bogeyman is useful. It reminds me of the “EEEEEVIL UNION BOSSES ZOMG” campaign the Liberals won in 2007. An entire generation of Australians has grown up since the days when unions really did strike at the most inconvenient times for the general public – it’s just irrelevant to them.

    It’s 34 years since Whitlam got sacked, 32 years since the last time he faced the people as Labor leader. If rabbiting on about someone who’s as relevant to today’s ALP as Caius Gracchus is what passes for Tony Abbott’s strategy, the Liberal Party is in deep deep trouble.

  3. The Piping Shrike on 2nd December 2009 9:25 am

    One of the things that strikes me about Abbott in interviews is that he often justifies doing things for reasons that would only make sense to an internal party audience, such as when he talked about how getting ETS concessions off the government would look good for Malcolm. Whitlam, of course, is a key lynchpin for the Coalition to define themselves against.

    This internal focus I guess is something to be expected from a ‘keeper of the flame’.

  4. David Jackmanson on 2nd December 2009 9:35 am

    It’s weird that he’d do that in public. In the party room or at a branch meeting or party conference, sure, I can see having a go at Whitlam would make sense there. But at his first press conference after being elected Leader? Anyone with any sense would be reaching out to swinging voters, not tub-thumping to the base.

    Still, it’s not part of your thesis that Abbott has a great deal of sense!

  5. dedalus on 2nd December 2009 10:17 am

    Just a cautionary note here for some balance. The general public doesn’t follow the fine points of the debate like some do. But Abbott’s main strength, the ability to give short answers to long questions, and not to ranble on pompously, ensures that whatever point he’s making will get across clearly to the average listener. Plus he has a sense of humour, which Rudd totally lacks. I rather think he’ll get a honeymoon poll boost which might put him in the game. He’ll probably fail, because I agree that the liberal’s overall policy thrust is counter to the prevailing mood etc etc, and he’ll be replaced by some younger dark horse. But don’t underestimate him.

  6. David Jackmanson on 2nd December 2009 10:31 am

    Dedalus, I’m doing my best not to underestimate Abbott. As a happy resident of the latte belt, I know it’s far too easy to smugly sneer at the Right and miss ways some right-wingers can appeal to voters.

    One thing that makes me think Abbott will find it very hard to attract moderate votes is the RU486 affair from a few years ago. You don’t have to be a left-wing feminist to think Abbott isn’t the right person to control women’s fertility. And the way he called Julie Bishop a “girl” yesterday will probably seem a little patronising to ambitious career women.

    But you are right, I will watch the polls as well as my own prejudices to make sure I’m weighing Abbott up correctly.

  7. The Piping Shrike on 2nd December 2009 10:32 am

    I think Abbott can do a good political games attack, like on Rudd and Copenhagen. I also thought he was good on the Oceanic Viking – climate change conterposition he made the other night.

    The humour thing I personally don’t think is an issue.

    I think Abbott is no fool. But like Turnbull, it’s the situation they find themselves in that I think is the problem.

  8. Scott on 2nd December 2009 10:47 am

    I think it was telling when Abbott told the 7.30 report that the Coalition had stopped being a former Government and was now an Opposition. It revealed what was behind the Coalition’s rupture: the Old Guard is sick of apologising for its past and wants to take overt control again. I think Abbott is dangerous because he has a win at all costs mentality and the method is expedient. It is a great contradiction for someone who claims to be a man of morals. We can expect nasty personal politics and populist scare campaigns where the truth is irrelevant, provided the message taps into people’s irrational fears and wins them over. A big question mark over Abbott is whether or not the mainstream media will give him much of a honeymoon. That factor will impact on his polling and, potentially, the extent of his defeat at the next election. Perhaps minimising the 2010 election defeat as much as possible is his true purpose so that they can be competitive in 2013?

  9. Dr_Nick on 2nd December 2009 11:47 am

    This is a great analysis. I think Tony Abbott talks ‘tactics’ too much with the general public – similar to your thinking about him saying things for the wrong audience. I also think that he is a conviction politician on moral issues (e.g. abortion) but everything else is malleable.

  10. Cavitation on 2nd December 2009 11:54 am

    The comparison between Abbott and Rudd is interesting. When Rudd and Turnbull were compared, Turnbull naturally seemed to appear more statesmanlike than Kevin; which I thought discomforted our Prime Minister. But compared with Abbott Rudd looks like a statesman, which will work to his advantage. I suspect Turnbull was more daunting to Kevin than Abbott can ever be. Kevin Rudd needs to seem presidential when measured against the opposition leader; he never quite managed it with Malcolm, but it should be much easier with Tony Abbott. Abbott comes across like your kid’s local soccer coach, one that you might want to keep an eye on. I think Kevin will be breathing a sigh of relief that he will be measured up against Tony from now on.

  11. Michael on 2nd December 2009 2:02 pm

    Tony Abbott trotted out “Stalinist” when describing the Labor Party after his elevation, and later on talked about the ETS being a “bauble” for Kevin Rudd to wave about in his pursuit of securing the job of UN Secretary-General in a few years. Two strands of very ‘old’ Liberal tactics – reds under the bed (pre-Whitlam, even!), and attacking the man in mocking Rudd, a strategy that worked really well in the last election. It’s all backwards from here, and if ever there was a Liberal politician to put his party into reverse gear, Abbott’s the one. The chances of Australian voters wanting to be taken back to ‘Howard Heaven’ are slim. Especially by a man who has also declared in the last 48 hours that WorkChoices is back on the cards, with only a name change to the same old legislation to distinguish it from the last go-round. Of course the Liberal electoral base is cheering him. But it was still only one vote of his peers who got him over the line, and even with the ‘comprehensive’ majority of those voting to reject the ETS, 23 Liberal politicians thought otherwise. Perhaps Tony needs to apply a touch of Stalinist control himself?

  12. guppy on 2nd December 2009 9:08 pm

    Abbott’s election sniffs very much of Joh for Canberra to me. With the same tragic outcomes. The far right are making a new movie to its old audience. Thank god they liked the original “return of the living dead”. Sure scares me.

  13. Dave Bath on 2nd December 2009 9:16 pm

    The Poodle’s interview on Lateline was a goody… stressed in the list of people who needed to be impressed by the electability of the Liberal Party were…. “DONORS” (I’d love to have a comparative sound-level for each of the items on the list which included voters and members).

    I’m beginning to think with the Rudd non-action ETS plans that there is little reason for the emissions-heavy donors to be generous to the Libs.

    I’ve seen lots of comments about electoral viability, but I’d love your opinion, oh Piping Shrike, on whether there might be more than a tad of financial viability being an important element in the recent hoo-haa.

  14. The Piping Shrike on 2nd December 2009 10:26 pm

    I would think it more a constraint to what has happened. Other than the hope for more concessions, I can’t see that big sponsors would be that thrilled by what the Liberals are doing. I think the detachment from their traditional business base is unprecedented, but has been coming for some while.

  15. Tad Tietze on 3rd December 2009 6:47 am

    I think Scott is right about the potential for populist scare campaigns. The Oceanic Viking episode showed that right now, with the economy holding up post stimulus, even when Rudd cannot provide a coherent response there are few votes in retreading refugee-bashing.

    But if the economy turns down, the potential for fear to be whipped up is much greater.

    The other potential is for Abbott’s general opening up of a harder right discourse to legitimise the arguments of forces to his right, like the CDP in NSW, which has moved towards a more clearly Islamophobic line in recent years.

    It’s no coincidence that as times have become tougher in Europe the far Right has become more successful in a few places. And that broader racist sentiment is able to be mobilised (as the Swiss Minaret ban indicates).

    Abbott may in the short term look like a disaster for the Libs, but the situation could still be quite fluid in the longer run.

  16. Rocket on 3rd December 2009 1:29 pm

    It’s sort of undemocratic, but you can’t help wondering whether Labor in Feb-March are going to apply the blow-torch in a “phony campaign” just to make the Coalition “burn” some of their limited resources, before the real thing in September {sort of ironic in the current policy context}.

    I am sure some of their traditional sponsors are having a quiet word in their collective ears – already the “global warming is crap” vitriol is diminishing, even from Barnaby!

    That’s why I think the SA election will be a very interesting “bellwether” on Coalition tactics.

  17. Thomas Paine on 4th December 2009 2:17 am

    Abbott style, method and policy inclinations all point to and give a feeling of the past.
    A past I think most people don’t want to revisit.

    People don’t want to go back to the Howard years, they weren’t pleasant years for the psych. Terrorism, war and dog whistling and Howard playing on peoples emotions and playing with words eventually turned people off to him. Abbott has a 100% feel of being a creature from the past.

    There is the belief that women don’t like him and I can say that every women I have heard were shocked that he won. So if this thing isn’t a myth then there will be no poll bounce for Tony, you might see a dip in at least one demographic. His media meets haven’t been cut through and very indistinct and odd so he missed a chance there.

    Turnbull will be planning his takeover right this minute as he will want to have a shot at becoming PM in this cycle as he wont hang around for the next. Abbott will sink in the polls and damage the brand, CC will remain an important and divisive issue – Turnbull will be the Liberal Party’s white knight and when he challenges with the policy of passing the ETS he will win and displace Abbott.

    Turnbull has won himself some stripes from his fight with his own party and this will show up in the polls as well.

    I predict Turnull will take over after Feb if the ETS isn’t passed in Feb. Or sooner if Abbott really sinks badly in the polls.

  18. DM on 4th December 2009 2:11 pm

    It remains to be seen how the electorate takes to Tony, I would not jump to any conclusion about his electability just yet. Notice how the government is already distancing itself from the possibility of an early election. I think Tony’s got one thing going for him: he is appealing to the hip pocket with the ‘No Big Tax’ smear against the ETS. The golden rule of Australian politics is appealing to people’s financial concerns, whoever can convince them that under their rule things will become more affordable and the people more prosperous wins the election. In that sense the Australian electorate is very different from the American which is also concerned about the candidate’s moral convictions and principles. Australians overwhelmingly don’t care what their representatives’ moral convictions or ideological leanings are as long as they provide for low interest rates low tax, job availability and low inflation. That is why Tony Abbott should be a concern for the government if they want to wage the next election on the ETS!

  19. Alphonse on 6th December 2009 12:27 pm

    The worry with Abbott is that he departs even further, if that is possible, than Howard from the Marquis of Queensbury rules of political combat.

    Even if he is unsuccessful, our political discourse becomes further debased. Facts and logic need to count for something.

  20. Global Voices Online » Australia Faces 2010 Climate Change Election on 7th December 2009 12:06 am

    […] Once more, with feeling […]

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