Showing posts with label Tony Abbott. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tony Abbott. Show all posts

Monday, 22 February 2016

Will the real Liberals please stand up?

Tony Abbott, in his world tour of far right, Christian lobby group speaking engagements, has never seemed more comfortable in his own skin. Free of the need to putty over the wide chasm between his personal beliefs and that of his party, Abbott is looking and sounding more confident than he has in years. Gone is the halting, repetitious speech patterns, designed to slow his mouth from uttering what’s really on his mind and activate instead the soulless three-word slogans. 
Abbott now is the Abbott that was always there lurking beneath the blue ties, the hair rinse and the more latent attempts to buffer away the sharp right edges of his political demeanor. He's become the unabashed poster boy for the conservative right of the Liberal Party which has Malcolm Turnbull on a very tight leash. “Don’t start carping on about the climate change crap again. Stay away from gay marriage and forget about cutting ties to the Mother Country,” say the chorus of this group, comprised of Eric Abetz, Corey Bernardi and Kevin Andrews. Abbott’s not using his demotion to the backbench to snidely undermine Turnbull – he’s out there openly articulating a call to arms to the disaffected in the electorate.
Malcolm Turnbull believes in free markets, free country (a republic) and free choice of an individual to marry whomever he/she pleases. He acknowledges climate change and like a true liberal, believes market forces can solve the problem. 
So who is ‘more Liberal’ – more representative of their party? The problem is, both are it seems, and it’s the fault line that threatens the future of the party. Turnbull appears to be much more aligned to Menzies’ “Liberal Creed”, articulated in 1964. “As the etymology of our name 'Liberal' indicates, we have stood for freedom... We have learned that the right answer is to set the individual free, to aim at equality of opportunity, to protect the individual against oppression…” 
How can you believe in small government, liberty and freedom of enterprise, but not of individuals or country, as the conservative right do? As PM, John Howard extrapolated Menzie’s vision to declare the party “…a broad church”. But it’s like putting pagans and devout Christians together under one roof – the building may resemble a church in structure, but the fundamental elements that make it a church – a place of worship for people of a singular faith – are missing. And someone’s sure to burn it down. 
In the US, Donald Trump is like the Pied Piper, merrily dancing through America’s white, middle class lands playing a tune that has proven surprisingly seductive to a growing majority. In droves they are falling in behind him, this man once dismissed as a joke, now seen as a messiah to the disaffected – the American Dreamers who feel they’re living a nightmare. 
As Abbott warmed up for his speech to the Alliance Defending Freedom group, it’s hard not to think this is all part of a calculated trajectory, one that is fuelled by the disaffected right of the party and stoked by powerful media and conservative right campaigners such as Rupert Murdoch, Alan Jones and others. Whether the end game is a new political party founded on the principles of the conservative right, or a mutiny of Turnbull’s progressive agenda (as has already begun with the gay marriage plebiscite) is yet to be seen. But something’s up. And given Labor is dead in the water, the time for a Liberal revolution may paradoxically be just right.
Turnbull needs to do some soul searching about what his policy mantle will be before this year’s election. Will he allow himself to be straight-jacketed and rendered facile by the far right? Or will he get the bit between his teeth, lead with policies that will deliver real economic and social change for our country, and stand on the platform of true liberalism that champions the freedom of individual, business and country? 
While he’s showed benign support of Abbott’s right to speak at such events like the ADF, Turnbull would do well to keep an eye on his predecessor’s extracurricular backbench activities. In his blatantly self-congratulatory speech during the Margaret Thatcher Lecture last year, Abbott may have hinted at his hitherto unthinkable resurrection. “The lesson of Margaret Thatcher's life is that strong leaders can make a difference; that what's impossible today may be almost inevitable tomorrow.” 
Diana Elliott is a freelance writer. 

Saturday, 3 October 2015

When disruption hits politics

In Malcolm we trust. 
This week, Tony Abbott emerged from the surf to chat to his good buddy Ray Hadley about the events that led to his demise as Prime Minister.  Fair enough. The man should be allowed to lick his wounds. Despite the gasps, it was a relatively benign interview – Abbott clearly had learnt to ‘button it’ after that throwaway and nonsensical line about Scott Morrison last week.

But what’s fascinating is that Tony Abbott still doesn’t get it, nor do those who love quoting the ‘four PMs in five years’ phenomenon. It’s not polls or the media spinning that revolving door. It’s incompetence. Tony Abbott will be remembered as the best Opposition leader we’ve ever had. He was fierce. He took the other side. He opposed things – something he once said was an Opposition leader’s duty. It’s one of the reasons why he snatched the leadership from Malcolm Turnbull in 2009. Turnbull is a barrister by trade – used to knowing which battles to pick, and which to compromise. He wanted to support Rudd’s Emissions Trading Scheme. Many in his party didn’t. He fell on his sword being principled about it and lost by one vote.  Abbott was handed the leadership on the basis of opposing something, and it’s been his modus operandi since. Oppose the carbon tax. End the mining tax. Stop the boats. Every policy framed in the negative.

In the run up to the 2010 election, someone in Abbott’s camp sensed that this devastatingly effective stance in Opposition needed to be refined for the position of leadership. Cue the blue ties – indicating loyalty, stability, and an air of conservative refinement. Sleeves that had been rolled up were cuffed and clamped down. And the language and tone of Opposition – fervent, attacking, and scaling up and down the octaves - became muted and slow.  

Abbott, like the insecure bride who hands the prettiest bridesmaid the ugliest dress to wear, didn’t ever let Turnbull shine. He handed him the Communications portfolio – hardly a marquee slot, forcing the man he credited with ‘inventing the internet’ to reverse all those trucks delivering the rolled gold NBN. Turnbull’s critics love to point out that even the pared-back NBN solution is over-budget. But c’mon, have you ever known of an IT project that isn’t?

Abbott, in latent and overt ways, is a man frozen in time. In smoothing out the traits that made him powerful in Opposition, he became a wax-like imitation of a leader – more comfortable dealing in one-syllable, three word slogans than drawing on his privileged education to articulate an expansive vision. The world was divided into villains and heroes. Baddies and goodies. The grey rinsed out of his hair – symbolic of a man who refuses to acknowledge time’s passing.

In contrast, Malcolm Turnbull embodies much of what the new century demands in a leader. Someone who can engage in a conversation, not merely recite key messages ad nauseum, hoping the minutes tick down on a hostile interview before you make a gaff. Compare Turnbull's first interview as PM on ABC's 7.30 with Leigh Sales with Tony Abbott's last, which by any measure, was a disgrace of 'Death Cult' proportions. 

He’s relaxed. Optimistic. Aware of the upside, not just the downside of risk. Disruption is coming. We need a leader at the helm who isn’t frightened of what he sees on the horizon. Someone who can keep a cool head out on the deck, and sail with the winds of change, not a captain that dives underneath, battens down the hatches and waits for it to pass.

Abbott’s lack of insight into his own failings will hopefully recede with time. It’s like watching taxi drivers on the steps of Parliament bleating about the rise of Uber. Or hotel owners wanting to shut down AirBnB. Or Abbott’s continual claim that the changing climate wasn’t going to get in the way of managing the economy, even as every major company in the land is incorporating the impact of climate change into their business plans.

While Abbott blames the media and hypersensitivity to polls as the reasons for his ousting, it was his own inability to remove the straightjacket that he’d been stitched into that did it. Lacking ability to seize opportunities in the new economy. Clutching coal when Blind Freddy could see the world was moving – if not us – to cleaner forms of energy. An obsession with building roads when overburdened cities are crying out for more public transport. Abbott was a man intent on staying still, in spite of the whirling winds of change around him. It was unsustainable.

Politics is about public service, but to be an effective leader of the country, you need more. Abbott, larger than life in Opposition, was like a greyhound at the end of a race once he won the Prime Ministership. The lure was on longer in sight – giving him something, anything to chase – and he flailed. That’s what lost him the leadership. 

Diana Elliott.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Tony Abbott's Christmas letter

Tony Abbott: Before the egg nog kicked in

Dear [Insert name – MARGIE: Can you help me out here please? Just use last year’s list but cross off Alan, Ray, Karl and that Chris or whatever his bloody name is from Sunrise].

Well, another year – my first full one as Prime Minister of Australia – has passed. Like you, I’m very glad to see the back of it. We’ve had some good times this year. We’ve stopped reporting on the boats (onya Scottie!). We got rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax, which raised no money and no one cared about except Auntie Gina, who sure looked happy at our Easter function. I do love it when she smiles. [PETA, can you work your magic on that last sentence please? Want to convey arms-length affection but can’t think of the right phrasing!].

But really, it’s Jules who’s been the star of our family this year. Or should I say, Julie “Deathstare” Bishop! The kids have even taken to calling her JBish! I guess I’m too much of a ‘daggy Dad’ – or so I keep telling myself – for the kids to give me a cool moniker.

How about all those who reached for their calculators to tally up the gender split when I announced my cabinet, eh? “Only one woman!” they cried. And guess what, she’s the ace in my deck! The best performing woman all year! [PETA: of course except for you. I’m just spit balling here! Feel free to change!]. In fact, she's been so good, I’m DOUBLING the number of women in Cabinet next year. Take that haters! [PETA: I'm trying a bit of pop culture slang here - what do you think?!].

We’ve had quite a few challenges too, I’ll be honest. Poor Joe Hockey has probably had it toughest. In fact, I’ve never seen him so down. I’m thinking of putting one of my old road bikes on chocks and giving it to him for Christmas, because the other night I caught him tucking into a tub of Crème Caramel ice cream with Clive. And it wasn’t a good look, from any perspective.

Joe’s a good lad, he just needs a bit of time away from Mathias Cormann, who I think has become a bad influence. First there was the cigar smoking behind Parliament and then Mattias doing his Arnie impressions, when we’re trying to be the adults in the room! Christopher Pyne has had an awfully rough trot trying to get the young uni bludgers to bankroll their own education. But you know young Christopher! He won’t go down without dragging us all with him! Heh heh heh.  

Anyway, it’s a problem of PR, not policy. We’ve just got to get better at saying bad things, better. It was so much easier when I didn’t have to remember more than three words at a time. Peta’s got me trying this new ‘think-before-speaking-while-still-speaking’ style. So, what that essentially means, is that whilst, some might say…there are questions to answer…I’m not going to be drawn to answer them until I have had the opportunity, that is, the time to reflect, learn and recite verbatim, the key messages that have been approved for me to say.  It’s quite a neat trick! But I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet. I can also repeat a phrase if I get stuck. That is, I can repeat a phrase, repeat a phrase, and hope the minutes tick past so I don’t have to answer any more questions. Gives it more gravitas don’t you think?

Over Christmas, I’ll be spending time working out how we can get off on the right foot in 2015 and by right, I mean left. It’s why I’m thinking of shuffling Malcolm closer to the action (I know, I know, but the lefties love him). I have to hand it to the Silver Fox; he’s done an okay job with the shit sandwich I gave him. The look on his face when I gave the man I credited with inventing the internet the job of reversing all those Telstra trucks from the NBN-promised lands! But the little bugger just kept smiling! Sometimes I just want to shove his good-looking, Prime Ministerial, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth articulate, intelligent smooth talking face into a wall, you know?! [PETA: Please fix! Thought I was back at Uni and got carried away, lol!].

Anyway, we’re Libs, we love each other, no matter what. No knives in backs in our party room. If we have battles – and they’re only ever in the spirit of ideology – we battle with class, like Siamese fighting fish, not backyard bogan brawlers like that mob led by the face of the Faceless Men, Shorten!

So in that positive spirit of Christmas and my new government, I wish you and yours a very happy Christmas. Wherever this finds you, remember, if you’re one of us, you’ll always have a place on Team AustraliaAnd if you’re not, we’ll tow, tow tow your boat, gently back to Indonesian waters! [MARGIE: Please use this or insert other Christmas carol here].

Tony "Your Captain" Abbott,  PM.

Diana Elliott.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Australia's gone cold on climate change action

"Is it just me or is it getting a bit balmy in here?"
Australia’s eastern seaboard is basking in a record-breaking stretch of warm days, two weeks out from the official start of winter. Everybody’s talking about the weather, but hardly anyone's mentioning the climate. As in - change, action, what are we doing? We’re the well-fed lobsters in the slowly boiling pot – screaming at the injustices of the budget to our hip pockets, analysing the nuances of a wink and ignorant of policy that sets out how we’ll play our part in averting a looming climate crisis (not using the term loosely).  

The budget is tough. It’s about heavy lifting, doing your bit and if you don’t, they’ll be not-so-subtle pressure applied to make sure you do – earn or learn, get a job or work for the dole, type of thing. But curiously, the one policy area where sticks would work more effectively than carrots doesn’t have any. Climate change. The Artic ice cap is melting at record levels. Local councils across the country are modelling the impact on sea rises on their coastal communities. Businesses are factoring in the impact of climate change into their strategic plans. But the Government is silent. And as a society, we’re complicit.

In his 3500-word Budget speech, Joe Hockey did not mention ‘climate’ once. In fact, he neglected to allude to any policies regarding ‘Direct Action’, the Coalition’s policy on climate change. The plan is to establish the Emissions Reductions Fund to pay big emitters to build new 5-star energy rated offices, or something. Who would know? The Government will also plant 20 million trees, which will supposedly drink in all the carbon from the atmosphere. Where are these trees going and who’s planting them? The Coalition rarely talks about its Direct Action policy, because we’ve given up holding them to account on climate change.

They’ve also appointed climate skeptic, Dick Warburton, to review Australia’s previously committed to Renewable Energy Target. I don’t mean to be skeptical about a skeptic, but I doubt he’s going to recommend we stick to the current target, let alone a higher one. “China’s making more mess!” will come the inevitable argument.

Some days it’s hard not to feel sorry for Malcolm Turnbull, the man who staked his Opposition leadership on supporting the former Rudd Government’s push for an Emissions Trading Scheme, and lost, watching the whole war on climate change be abandoned shortly afterwards. In 2010, Turnbull  told Parliament, “Climate change is the ultimate long-term problem. We have to make decisions today, bear costs today so that adverse consequences are avoided, dangerous consequences are avoided many decades into the future.”

It’s laughable to think how far away Australians now are from the idealistic, passionate commitment to climate change that existed only a few short years ago. Before the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd declared, “Climate change is the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time.” And then the economic grim reaper – the GFC – killed off efforts to do anything other than focus on getting people out buying white goods again.

“Even Howard…” is a phrase used at the moment to compare Abbott’s performance against that of his self-reported political idol. Well, “even Howard” kicked off Australia’s climate change action in 2007 by laying the groundwork for an emissions trading scheme.

Meanwhile in the US, the Obama administration has just released a very slick, comprehensive study titled the National Climate Assessment. The President is on the road debating its findings with television weather forecasters, because despite their lack of scientific credentials, 62 per cent of Americans trust them on climate change far more than they do climate scientists.  
While Tony Abbott stands with smirking lips beside state Premiers, declaring himself the Infrastructure Prime Minister, President Obama is determined his legacy will be to finally do something meaningful about his country’s contribution to climate change.  The Australian Government is preparing to skittle the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, each of which was designed to promote, regulate and remove barriers to high polluters switching to clean energy and which were already contributing to a reduction in emissions.
Next month, the US Environment Protection Agency will launch the most dramatic anti-pollution regulation in a generation, with a sweeping crackdown on carbon. While our government throws our cash at dirty polluters hoping they’ll come up with something novel, Obama is forcing the behavioural change, because sometimes, tough love is what’s needed. Perhaps this is one of the advantages of knowing you can’t run for a third term in the US – short-sighted, politically motivated parochial interests give way to a desire to leave a legacy that will endure for generations beyond.
In his Budget speech, Hockey finished by saying, “As Australians, we must not leave our children worse off. That’s not fair. That is not our way.” He could have been talking about climate action.
But he wasn’t.
Diana Elliott.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Climate change: the disastrous consequences of political short-sightedness

This piece originally appeared online at SMH on 6 November 2013. 
Like John Howard, Liberty was frozen in time

On Tuesday, John Howard addressed a gathering of British climate change sceptics. He accused the United Nations' climate panel, the IPCC, of including “nakedly political agendas” in its advice and then explained his government proposed an emissions trading scheme in 2006 in the face of a political perfect storm on the issue. He also said “…the high tide of public support for over-zealous action on global warming has passed.” And on that score, he's right.

Lately, when I hear our politicians discussing the climate, I can't get the images from the otherwise largely forgettable The Day After Tomorrow out of my head. It's a movie that takes a few creative liberties in showing the devastation that happens when polar ice melts due to global warming. 

The unsalted water from the glacier dilutes the ocean, causing the climate to change rapidly. Weird stuff starts to happen, like helicopters freezing solid in mid-flight and a massive flood in New York where Jake Gyllehaal huddles in the library with his friends. And then Jake's dad (Dennis Quaid) – one of the scientists who is not being heard – rescues him and their estranged relationship and the storm passes and the world thaws and, we're like, phew, glad that's over. And we don't just mean the storm.

But the point of the movie was politicians put their shortsighted economic and political interests first, with disastrous consequences.

Howard's is just the latest example in a long list. Watching Tony Abbott bat away suggestions that climate change is contributing to the frequency and ferocity of bushfires with suggestions that the UN Climate Change Chief is “talking out of her hat” and it's all “complete hogwash” fills me with the same sense of foreboding I get watching those disaster movies. He merrily goes on, posing for a pic opp with a fire hose and razing the carbon price, the Climate Change Authority and the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

Interviewed recently on ABC's 7.30 program, Al Gore diplomatically avoided scoffing at the Coalition's plan, but reinforced the view that an emissions trading scheme, which drives change towards cleaner, more efficient energy sources is the preferred route. Gore, the mastermind of the most compelling PowerPoint presentation of all time in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, believes people power is the only way to combat the obvious conflicts that exist between political and business interests and the climate. He likened it to the pressure brought upon politicians by cigarette companies trying to sully the link between smoking and lung cancer.

“I think the public has a role in this and has a voice to be heard,” said Gore. “In the US, we had Hurricane Sandy, which was devastating - US$60 billion in damages and it caused a dramatic change in the message the public was sending to politicians in both parties.” Is it going to take a disaster of that magnitude for Australians to stand up and be heard? I hope not.

A short four years ago, Australia was reeling from the Black Saturday bushfires, in which a record number of people lost their lives in a raging inferno that followed a two-month, unprecedented heat wave. In 2011, Queensland and Victoria were inundated with floods. Climate change seemed palpable. It was happening all around us and even as skeptics brushed them off as cyclical events, we shifted uneasily in our seats and wanted something to be done.

Now, Abbott, with his trademark appeal to our hip pockets and self-interest (“Electricity Bill” – haw haw haw! Good one Tones!) is trying to have us believe that as long as our light bills go down, the world will be a better place.
Abbott's Direct Action policy means he'll dish out a confusing goodie-bag of treats to polluters to help them change their dirty habits.That's like handing an alcoholic $50 and asking him to spend it on green leafy vegetables.

Hollywood end-of-days disaster movies often depict bureaucrats or other people with power making self-centred decisions, usually to further their own interests, throwing the lives of others into peril.

Unless Australians stand up and demand a real solution (not the Coalition's Real Solution) to climate change, we could all be archival fodder for future generations. In a world ravaged irrevocably by warming, they may watch a darkly comic moment in a movie where an Environment Minister trusts Wikipedia over scientists, and leave shaking their heads. “What idiots they were to not act when they had the chance…”

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Great Undebated: Rudd and Abbott on climate change

"You call that a slogan? I'll show you a &^%ing slogan."

Kevin Rudd was disappointed when Tony Abbott failed to show up for the debate he’d unilaterally called for at the Press Club recently. But fear not. The Observerant has managed to get its hands on the lost transcript of what would have been said, had it happened.

Moderator: Let’s start with each of you explaining your respective climate change policies.
Tony Abbott (TA): Yes, let’s talk about the Big Fat Carbon Tax, Mr Rudd.
Kevin Rudd (KR): Gladly. And please, call me Kevin. The Royal Baby does, so too the President of-
TA: Just get on with it.
KR: Fine. I’ve made a decision to terminate the carbon tax and bring forward the move to an Emissions Trading Scheme.
TA: Why?
KR: Because I’m acting decisively. I'm consulting myself before I make any decisions and this is one of them. The Australian People deserve that.
TA: But what’s the point of ending the fixed price period, I mean - the Big Fat Carbon Tax - a year early?
KR: So I can relieve industry of some of the cost pressures, and deliver real outcomes for Working Families who are doing it tough.

TA: [shuffles papers]. You…just…stole my lines!
KR: Now that you raise your lines/slogans/empty words Tony, tell us, what’s your policy on the climate issue?
TA: The Coalition has a Real Solution. It’s outlined in my Real Solutions Plan.
KR: So what is it then?
TA: It’s a Direct Action Policy.
KR: [flicks through Real Solutions]. I can’t seem to find that in your Real Solutions Plan Tony.
TA: No, it’s not detailed there. You’ll have to Google it and find it on Greg Hunt’s website.
KR: So what is the plan then? 
TA: The Coalition is going to do the things that really work to reduce carbon emissions, so we can protect our planet for our children and our children’s children-
TA’s media advisor: Sorry Mr Abbott, I think I accidently got President Obama’s speech notes mingled with yours…
TA: Christ. Ok. Where was I? [Looks down at newly arrived pages]. Aaahh yes. I was talking about a so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one.
KR: What does that even mean Tony?
TA: It’s a sentence filled with double-negatives, with no mention of ‘no’.
KR: So what’s your PLAN?
TA: The carbon tax – the Big Fat Carbon Tax- will be gone under the Coalition.
KR: It’s gone now, Tony. I’ve already terminated it. [Gestures to young woman in audience] Oh, is that a smart phone in your pocket? 
Girl in audience: Ummm...
KR: Selllfiiiie time folks! Excuse us Tony...
TA: We don’t believe in an Emissions Trading Scheme either. THAT won’t happen under a Coalition government that I lead.
TA: We’re also going to plant trees – 20 million of them in fact – to soak up all the carbon being emitted by the dirty polluters. And we’ll establish an Emissions Reduction Fund to pay for farmers to store carbon in soil.
KR: How does that work?
TA: Look, I’m not…heh heh heh….purporting to be the world’s most informed person on this stuff – but look, it’s like the soil is a sink, and we can tip the carbon in there…
KR: So you’re not doing anything punitive to the big polluters? No need for them to buy permits to emit CO2? No cost pressure to change their dirty, stinking habits?
TA: That’s right. Industry needs incentives, not sticks. We’ve got to remember that there’s no climate without an economy. And looking around the world, our Direct Action Policy is consistent with what the other big Western economies are doing…
KR: Yes, well. Why wouldn’t Australia follow America and Europe? I mean, they did so well comparative to Australia in keeping their economies afloat during the GFC. Ha ha ha. I’d just like to remind the Australian People that when I was the PM – the first time-
AUDIENCE: [Groaning]. NOOOO! Don’t mention how you saved us from the bloody GFC again!

Moderator: So Kevin, you’re bringing forward the ETS, which means less cost to energy companies, which should reduce the price of electricity for households. So you’ll scrap the ‘carbon compensation’ package, right?
KR: Wrong.
TA: How do you justify compensating households when the carbon tax no longer exists?
KR: The same way you do, Tony. Suicide. Political. Get it? The folks at home, doing it tough, they need the Household Assistance Package to buy that extra plasma TV.
TA:  How will Labor pay for this?
TA: You're making people fill out logbooks to count kms? 
KR: Yes, but-
Joe Hockey [interjecting]: 1998 called and wants its red tape dispenser back!
KR: Aaaah heeellloooo?? It’s 2013 Tony. They can download an App!
TA: You’ll devastate the car industry!
KR: It’s already devastated! [Clears throat]. Excuse me folks. Labor believes Australia is good at making things. We believe in our manufacturing sector. How are YOU going to pay for the carbon compo package?
TA: We’ll let the Australian People know that prior to the election.
KR: That’s now, Tony.  
TA: For f&^%s sake, just call the election date!
KR: Calm down you boxing Blue!
TA: Call the election date before I wring your Ruddy neck!

Rudd and Abbott descend into a wrestling match on the floor, pummelling each other with indistinguishable sound bites. 

Moderator: And that concludes the Climate Change debate. We hope you’ve gathered insights into the political and philosophical viewpoints of the major parties to help you make an informed decision at the election.