Clearly the negative publicity over Rudd’s feisty turn on The 7.30 Report hasn’t dissuaded the government from taking what Karl on Nine’s Today program described to Gillard as its “angry pills”.

Actually the effect of the government bumping it up wasn’t so bad. It’s always enjoyable to watch Rudd put the knife into the media in “7:30 Report land” and it was actually possible to watch an entire interview of Swan last Sunday in his new pumped up mode. Craig Emerson wasn’t quite so digestible on Lateline on Thursday, sort of like a chainsaw coming at you. But despite the tone, the content was still the problem, as Laura Tingle noted on Insiders, the PM wasn’t actually saying very much in his outburst, which it was probably designed to conceal. Craig Emerson was even worse on Lateline, because his content was basically that Abbott was a risk. Oh dear.

Anyone who thinks the government’s current problems are due to the political prowess of Tony Abbott should have listened to him on 3AW with Neil Mitchell last week … or watched his interview with Laurie Oakes on Sunday … or caught last night’s stellar performance with Kerry O’Brien. In fact ever since he took over the leadership, Abbott has been easy prey for the media when they decide they want to have a go.

The attack is usually fairly simple, just accuse him of being inconsistent and, right on cue, Abbott starts falling all over the place. This is not because Abbott is an idiot. It is simply because he is trying to balance the impossible, like his predecessors, but from a much more difficult position, because the contradiction between being electorally viable and the Liberals standing for something has now come out in the open. Abbott’s phoney populism keeps on threatening the Liberals’ ‘brand’ which at the end of the day is that of Australia’s premier establishment party of business.

Fortunately, he has Labor party tactics to help him. Labor strategists should sit down and watch last night’s interview with Kerry O’Brien. They should take special note of the moment when, faced with O’Brien’s accusations that he can’t seem to stick to one point of view, Abbott defends himself by using what Labor are saying about him:

KERRY O’BRIEN: Is that why your colleagues over the years have come to call you “The Weathervane”?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I don’t know that I have been much called that over the years. I think that was a phrase that was bandied around in one context. I think the argument from the Labor Party much more often has been that I am so consistently on one side of the argument that I’m some kind of conservative ogre – I thought that was the argument that the Labor Party put more often.

It’s perhaps understandable that when Labor might be wondering what abandoning all their principles under Rudd is actually getting them, that the temptation to buff themselves up by attacking Abbott as too right wing, rather than, say, too incoherent, should be too powerful to pass up. Gillard whipping out her Workchoices press release within a minute of Abbott winding up his Budget Reply is all too predictable. The trouble is that in their rush to portray Abbott as right wing they keep on missing the traps Abbott is getting himself in. The result is that despite Labor picking politically useful fights, it struggles to take advantage.

Take the mining tax. Take the fact that it is known as the mining tax, rather than say the Mining Boom Tax Cut, or the Mining Boom Super Bonus. That the discussion has almost wholly centred on who the money is being taken off rather than who it being given to, is testament to how woeful are Labor’s tactics. In his desperation to define the Liberals, Abbott has taken up the cause of the big end of the mining industry, usefully personified by some of Australia’s least appealing businessmen, against what used to be seen as the Liberals’ core constituency, small business owners and self funded retirees.

Of course the Liberals are the party of big business, but they can’t be seen to be it for goodness sake! The focus on small business is usually the way the Liberals popularise their agenda for the big end of town. Labor attempt to wedge the Liberals through the mining tax no doubt poses a dilemma for Abbott. But you could imagine Howard being quiet about it, but just slyly sidling up to the industry and popping up at their dinners to show his support. But Abbott has gone straight on to the side of the villains and even claims it will be an election issue! As Laurie Oakes pointed out, this puts Abbott at odds with what used to be the Liberals’ natural base. Fortunately for him, instead of Labor running around beating up what a tough time small business owners had during the slowdown and so deserving of the benefits of the mining boom, they have tried to ludicrously deny that the tax won’t hurt the mining industry, giving Abbott an easy shot for his Budget Reply.

Abbott can’t articulate a right wing agenda, any more than he can come out as a climate change sceptic. Instead he ends up trying to break the deadlock with initiatives like the parental leave scheme and the stay at home allowance, the latter for which he was slapped down by a party trying to assert what it means to be a responsible party of business. Abbott is struggling to give any coherent agenda, but fortunately he has Labor ministers anxious to pretend he has one. Calling Abbott ‘flakey’ rather than ‘risky’ may not seem much of a difference – other than one is true and the other is not.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 18 May 2010.

Filed under Tactics

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8 responses to “Abbott’s not a risk to anyone but the Liberals”

  1. Tweets that mention Abbott’s not a risk to anyone but the Liberals :The Piping Shrike -- on 18th May 2010 8:26 am

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  2. Invig on 18th May 2010 10:07 am

    It’s perhaps understandable that when Labor might be wondering what abandoning all their principles under Rudd is actually getting them

    Why do I so-heartily agree with you today, and not yesterday.

    as Laura Tingle noted on Insiders, the PM wasn’t actually saying very much in his outburst, which it was probably designed to conceal

    Perhaps the media aren’t ‘cheap’ and are actually making some important points about Rudd?

    Their lack of ability to target Abbott, I would suggest, is a result of their overall inability to understand themselves – and what Labor stand for.

    At least ‘anti-trade union’ Gillard is giving it a shot. As has Swan, with the emotion-plus performance (I also was surprised I wanted to watch the entire thing on Insiders – that’s the only time since Tanner I think).

    Rudd remains unwatchable however. And perhaps gives some insight into why the media dislike the guy so intently; there is no channel changer at a press conference or ‘shovel ready’ site visit.

  3. Invig on 18th May 2010 10:09 am

    Note – your presumption that there is no ‘alternative’ to the PREVIOUS Labor ‘principles’ needs to be clarified.

    Is there? Is there not?

  4. Invig on 18th May 2010 10:26 am

    Cause this is what happens when people keep rerunning past battles…

    “The first sign that all was not right with the Rudd government’s tactics was its limp response to concerns over asylum seekers in May 2009. In speaking to a few young Labor policy advisers at the time, I was astonished to see the panic in their eyes. The Rudd government was leading by the length of the straight. Nevertheless, the fear was real. “If (the election) runs on border protection, the other mob always win,” was one such comment.”
    Jack the Insider

  5. Larry Buttrose on 18th May 2010 2:00 pm

    You are right Shrike. Labor has been terrible on many scores… and high on the list is not stressing how much benefit to how many the Super Tax will be, and how terribly it articulated the ETS (so badly it’s fair wonder if they were fair dinkum). It is trying to style itself as a reforming government still, but doesn’t seem to know how to outline its reforms to the people – who actually want them! The only goal actually kicked was WorkChoices, with the jury still out on the health changes.

  6. Avalon Dave on 18th May 2010 4:01 pm

    I agree.

    The Government’s problem, as my erstwhile Sales Manager puts it is, “these guys couldn’t sell fish on Good Friday”.

    I think we can go back to Paul Keating’s accusation about focus groups and what side of the bed to get out of. It seems that they overly complicate things, when in fact, Abbott is just a really simple target. Much much simpler than the Artful Dodger that Howard was.

    It’s really really simple. Sell the benefits of the Mining Tax – e.g. it belongs to all of us, and once harvested, it doesn’t grow back like your lawn does. And by the way, here’s what YOU are getting from it.

    Apart from that, don’t engage with Abbott at all – in fact simply ignore him. His ego won’t be able to stand that and in order to get some attention, he’ll say something silly again. Then just wheel out Julia to shake her head, and show him a little pity.

  7. Mr Denmore on 19th May 2010 12:05 pm

    Avalon Dave, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    Rudd and his people have spent far too much time listening to the spin doctors behind Bob Carr.

    If they spent less time reading the Daily Tele and more time focusing on good policy outcomes, Rudd might not be in so much bother.

    In that sense, Rudd’s problem – too much reliance on spin and too little on instinct -is the opposite of Abbott’s – all gut-feel and no big picture view.

    Abbott’s has been less of an issue so far because the spotlight hasn’t been on him that long. But that’s changing.

  8. Lloyd on 19th May 2010 9:07 pm

    If Hockey’s performance on the 7:30 Report tonight is any indication none of them are a risk to anyone.

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