Thursday, 4 December 2014

The media narrative concerning the Member for Warringah, Tony Abbott, finally shifts markedly towards reality

It has only taken seven long years for mainstream media to cease evaluating Liberal Party federal politician Tony Abbott solely on his own terms and start to examine him through an unclouded lens.

The Brisbane Times 30 November 2014:

The federal government says the Prime Minister's unpopularity had barely any role in the Coalition's state election loss in Victoria, but the Liberal candidate for the seat of Cranbourne on Saturday said voters told him they would vote for Labor because they disliked the Abbott government's budget…..

The Age 1 December 2014:

It is a sad reflection on our politics and governments that it takes some pretty hostile circumstances to get leaders to come clean, admit fault, and, yes, even to tell the truth. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Self evidently, that was the calculation Tony Abbott and his coterie weighed up before breaking the glass and pulling the tell-all press conference lever on the first morning of the last parliamentary week.

But after a week from hell headlined by the ABC funding fudge where the PM had been skewered on his own words, and bookended by the voters' cool dispatch of a first-term coalition government in Victoria – at least partly on federal grievances – the emergency was undeniable.

Abbott's presentation was typically direct and yet typically incomplete also. 

Eyeballing certain columnists, he said he'd read their scathing assessments over the weekend and would meet those critiques head on. He was less expansive on the self-inflicted ASC-canoe error by his beleaguered Defence Minister and his self-inflicted "barnacle debacle".

However, the real issue was not the commentary, anyway, but the subject of it: to wit, his government's  manifold failures against his own clear criteria.

Notably, restoring trust. Abbott's justification for breaking promises? For saying one thing before the election and doing another after? Circumstances have changed.

Ordinarily this would be reasonable enough. The terms of trade have gone south and the budget is indeed being hit to leg with a cyclical downturn compounded by a structural revenue shortfall. Both sides of politics own that one to some extent.

But Abbott is the last person the Labor opposition will be inclined to grant such leeway.

Australia's most percussively negative opposition leader, dubbed "Dr No" for his relentless pursuit of the former government, Abbott has banked zero credits in the pluralism and goodwill account of national politics.

And it gets sharper still because the rampaging opposition leader specifically ruled out using changed budget circumstances to justify breaking promises.

Now he wants precisely that room.

When Julia Gillard's government faced serious revenue write-downs, Abbott offered no comfort, no understanding.

Now he characterises an opposition pursuing a similar approach as "wreckers".

Voters see through it……

The Age 1 December 2014:

Political witch doctors remind us at every election that "governments lose elections, oppositions don't win them". Many are equally keen in declaring that Australian voters give governments a second term.

Like all aphorisms, there is a kernel of truth in both, but no-one half-savvy can rely on either, particularly the latter.

It has clearly dawned on Tony Abbott that not only do governments lose elections almost all by their own efforts; it can be after a single term.

It's why on Monday - having watched the Victorian Government swallowed after one term by an Opposition that had a leader barely recognised a few months ago who offered not much different than the Liberal-National Coalition - he swallowed some of the arrogance that has personified his office for a year, owned up as best his character can do it to breaking election promises, backed away from some of the politically impossible detritus his government has been dragging around and fielded questions for three quarters of an hour until no more questions were being bowled.

It was, of course, the beginning of the last week of a shocking political year for Abbott and his colleagues; traditionally a time for any political leader to try to clear the decks, let everyone take a powder over the summer break and come back for a better year.

Abbott and his colleagues know it has to be a big powder, for the government's misfortunes have been almost all self-inflicted, the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten hardly lifting a finger, and even though there remain two years before an election, Abbott is cognisant of how time flees….

Voice of America 1 December 2014:

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is nearing the end of his first full year in office hobbled by missteps and a souring economy that have plunged his approval ratings to historic lows, increasing speculation he may not survive to a second term.

Faced with a collapse in commodities prices and an unruly upper house Senate that has held Abbott's first budget hostage since May, voters have abandoned his conservative government more quickly than any other in three decades.

The drum beat of bad news, most recently the thrashing handed to Abbott's Liberal-National coalition in state elections in Victoria on Saturday, has sparked calls for Treasurer Joe Hockey and Defense Minister David Johnston to be thrown out.

However, even a cabinet reshuffle may be too little, too late, with the opposition Labor Party increasingly painting Abbott as a hypocrite over policy shifts that include deep cuts to the popular Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Abbott was a ruthlessly effective opposition leader against Labor Prime Ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, but those qualities are less desirable in a prime minister, Dr. Andrew Hughes of the Australian National University told Reuters.

“Tony Abbott's brand is so hard and it's so negative. It makes you wonder whether he was a one-use only brand,” he said……

The Canberra Times 2 December 2014:

In a few days' time, a full year will have passed since the federal Coalition was ahead of Labor in the opinion polls. Individual surveys have put Tony Abbott's government in the lead once or twice - Newspoll on one weekend in April, for instance - but the polls as a whole, aggregated by William Bowe at Poll Bludger, show a dismal two-party-preferred performance dating back to early December last year, barely two months after the election. Commentators often talk about the government's post-budget slump, but it would be more accurate to call it a post-election collapse, unprecedented in Australia since serious polling began.

What happened last year to erode the government's support so dramatically? Tony Abbott set out to run a low-key, surprise-free administration, and most of his ministers kept their heads down in the months after the election. But education minister Christopher Pyne began sending out mixed messages about his commitment to the popular Gonski funding proposals almost as soon as the ministry was sworn in. Then, on November 23, the Australian reported that  Pyne believed Gonski was impossible to implement and was planning to go "back to the drawing board". The next Newspoll had the Coalition trailing Labor 48-52, and that's basically where it's stayed.

Pyne's remarks probably didn't do all the damage. But they reminded a vital group of voters that many of the things the new government would do if it felt it could get away with it - in education, health and industrial relations, for instance - were not the kind of things they had voted for. In fact, polling on individual issues suggests many people who switched to the Coalition last year were simply punishing Labor, without any hostility towards its policies in those electorally significant areas…..

If the poor polling weren't so sustained and hadn't begun so unusually early in the government's first term, it could be argued that the Coalition's problems at the moment have no bearing on its performance at the next election. But the abnormally grim figures clearly do carry a message for the Coalition. And the problem for the government is that it will be very difficult to do much about the causes…..

The narrowness of the Coalition's list of election promises last year suggests how little common ground it shares with a majority of people in the electorate. No matter how much hostility towards asylum seekers shows up in the polls, the evidence shows that they don't figure in people's voting decisions. The carbon tax lost its electoral potency as soon as it became clear that its removal made no difference at all to most people's lives. The deficit should have been the Coalition's strongest issue, but the disastrous budget has diluted that message. And for many people in key electorates, road spending has lost its edge over investment in public transport.

Beyond these measures, the Coalition is in even trickier territory. Health? Medicare has long been a target for the Coalition's increasingly influential right wing, and voters were well aware that the $7 co-payment  was the thin end of the wedge; dropping the co-payment won't change that perception. Education? Gonski is gone and cabinet seems determined to create greater inequality among universities. Industrial relations? Many members of the Coalition's front bench hold views that would be electorally suicidal. The ABC? Only a minority of voters support cutting funding for the most trusted news organisation in Australia.

Meanwhile, the perception that the Coalition is a better economic manager has been eroded by the sense that it is too close to the finance sector and unconcerned by income inequality. (A growing budget deficit isn't helping either.) And the Prime Minister's attempts to capitalise on its other traditional strength, defence and security, have produced only a small, temporary rise in his own ratings.

The mismatch between the underlying views of Coalition MPs and the reality of electoral democracy crosses almost the full range of policy areas, from financial advice to university funding. It appears to be a problem not just for this government but also for the Coalition more generally, and particularly the Liberal Party. There's evidence that the electorate has shifted a little to the left, and the parliamentary Liberal Party has certainly shifted to the right. The gap that's opened up is wide enough to make it very hard for the Coalition, in its present shape, to attract an election-winning majority. As the Victorian election showed, a one-term government isn't out of the question.

9MSM TV Today 2 December 2014:

KARL STEFANOVIC: PM, good morning to you. Where did it all go wrong?
PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Karl. Well, Karl, the carbon tax has been successfully repealed, the mining tax has been successfully repealed, the boats are stopping, free trade agreements are being negotiated, the repeal of the carbon tax means that every household is $550 a year better off. So, sure, the polls aren’t so great, but no one said that the task of budget repair would be easy. No one said that tackling six years of a debt and deficit disaster was going to be easy, but I think the Australian people can be very confident that they’ve had a good year under their belt, that we’re getting the fundamentals right and that we are delivering for the people of Australia. I’d say to the people of Australia, we are delivering for you. That’s what we set out to do when we were elected and every day this year that’s exactly what we’ve done.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Peter Costello says this morning that getting rid of the barnacles has been as choppy as the barnacles themselves. He’s right, isn’t he?
PRIME MINISTER: Peter’s obviously entitled to his view. Again, Karl, no one said that the task of tackling the debt and deficit disaster that Labor left us would be easy. We’re repairing the Budget, Labor is doing its best to sabotage the Budget and I’m not complaining…
KARL STEFANOVIC: Yes you are!......
PRIME MINISTER: ......I wish the Labor Party wasn’t in such a feral mood, I wish the Labor Party was taking the kind of view that the Howard opposition took back in the 1980s when Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were being a responsible Labor government......
KARL STEFANOVIC: With respect, you were fairly feral in opposition, weren’t you? I mean the greatest respect by that, and isn’t he just doing what you did and why would he do anything different when it worked for you?......
KARL STEFANOVIC: The reality here is that the Budget position is in a shambles and every day it does get worse; it’s not getting better.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s not in a shambles, Karl, I want to stop you there…
KARL STEFANOVIC: No one is buying what you are selling is the point. No one is buying what you are selling – what you are laying down – and that’s the problem.

Even the Murdoch press is beginning to adjust its narrative.

Herald Sun 30 November 2014:

SENIOR federal government ministers have denied they are facing the same fate as the dumped Victorian Coalition, after it lost power after just one term.

But they admit the historic state election loss is a wake-up call and the Federal Government needs to work through “bugs in the system”.

After a horror week marked by confusion over the GP co-payment, unpopular cuts to the ABC and SBS, and the submarine gaffe of Defence Minister David Johnston, the federal Coalition is playing down links to the state result.

The fall of the first one-term government in Victoria since 1955 has sounded alarm bells across the country, with Victorian Liberals including former premier Jeff Kennett pointing the finger at Canberra for the debacle.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott today congratulated Labor’s Daniel Andrews on his state election victory, even as some Liberal Party members accuse his government of contributing to the outgoing Premier Denis Napthine’s loss…..

Earlier, former Vctorian premier Jeff Kennett unloaded on the Abbott Government as a “shambles’’ admitting it was major factor in the defeat of the state government.
As senior Liberals traded blows over the policy chaos over the GP tax, Mr Kennett said the Abbott Government could not escape blame over the election outcome.

Conceding Mr Napthine was too loyal and should have taken on the Prime Minister, Mr Kennett said there was no doubt the Abbott Government had been a “major factor’’.
“He never called Tony Abbott to account. Tony was putting tax on him after tax on him. He wouldn’t have done it in NSW.’’…..

The Daily Telegraph  2 December 2014:

In a 46-minute media conference, Mr Abbott confronted head-on a horror week that included his office bungling the status of the GP co-payment, a messy performance on ABC cuts and the Liberals’ loss in Victoria. A statesmanlike Mr Abbott didn’t once bristle as he was peppered by the Canberra press gallery on everything from the GP co-payment to same-sex marriage.

“We have quite a bit to talk about today,’’ he said at the start of the final sitting week of parliament for the year.

After confirming $17 million worth of defence entitlements would be returned, the PM told the media pack: “You will want to put your views to me so the floor is yours.”

The PM declared that:
• HIS government had been “ragged” last week, but it was just “atmospherics”;
• HIS multi-billion paid parental leave scheme would have to be tweaked to pass the senate, but would not be dumped despite pressure from within his party;
• THE government would push ahead with the $7 GP co-payment until a compromise solution was reached;
• HE backed his office and chief of staff Peta Credlin but conceded he was “bemused” his office had briefed media on the end of the co-payment;
• HE agreed he had broken a promise not to cut funds from the ABC, but said it was because Labor had left the economy in a worse position than he had initially thought.

Mr Abbott has danced around questions for weeks, rarely fronting the media, but yesterday he was frank, prime ministerial and even jovial.

The Australian 2 December 2014:

EVERY Newspoll except one this year has put Bill Shorten and Labor in an election-winning position.

Today’s poll continues that trend and, worse for the government, voter satisfaction with Tony Abbott has crashed back to the dim levels of the aftermath of the May budget, when he was under fire for breaking promises and making unfair cuts.

Abbott, who reached five years as Liberal leader yesterday and is the fourth longest serving after Robert Menzies, John Howard and Malcolm Fraser, is putting his faith in a Howard-like recovery.

“Let’s not forget the Howard government had a pretty rocky first term,” the Prime Minister volunteered yesterday as he defended his government while admitting it had appeared “ragged” last week. “The Howard government was in a diabolical position at different periods in the first term and yet it recovered to win its second term and then went on to be arguably the most successful post-war government Australia has had.”

He is urging voters to look beyond the “soap opera” and “atmospherics” that oppositions exploit and to feel the “substance” of what he says has been a year of “very considerable achievement”.

It’s what Julia Gillard used to say when Abbott ripped into her government so effectively.

Abbott does not want to repeat the Victorian Liberals’ experience of being thrown out of power after a single term and is arguing that his government has “guts, commitment and strength”. Shorten’s critique: “Dysfunction, deceit and disappointment”.

The Australian 2 December 2014:

This year, Ms Credlin, a recent focus of much criticism and complaint for seeking to “control” the government too much and telling ministers what to do, will be able to have at least a four-week break for the first time since 2009.

Mr Abbott yesterday conceded the government had had a “ragged week” last week and said there were some messy communications about the budget agenda. But he added: “I stand by my office. It’s a very good office. My office is essentially the same office that got us from nowhere to election parity in 2010 and gave us a very strong victory in 2013.

“In December 2009, the Liberal Party was on the verge of splitting, the Coalition was on the verge of breaking. We went to within a whisker of winning the 2010 election. We performed strongly throughout that term of parliament and we had a very emphatic victory in 2013.

“The office that I have now is essentially the same office that I had throughout that period so I stand by my office, I stand by all the senior members of my office. They do a fantastic job under sometimes difficult circumstances.”

The Australian 3 December 2014:

FRUSTRATED  backbench MPs have blocked an attempt to fast-track the Abbott government’s $20 billion medical research ­future fund in a show of strength amid growing despair at the way their leaders are communicating their economic strategy.

The Coalition’s economics committee refused to approve a draft bill to set up the controversial fund in a blunt signal to ministers that it would not “rubber-stamp” fresh ideas after seeing the government struggle to argue for its existing reforms.

The rare move came as government MPs lashed out at the confusion surrounding some of the government’s budget reforms — such as the $7 GP co-payment — and admitted the mistakes made in explaining an ambitious policy agenda.

Tony Abbott was forced to ­defend Joe Hockey yesterday morning in response to questions over whether the Treasurer would be dumped, one day after the Prime Minister sought to “reset” his message to voters.

“Joe’s doing a fine job — all of my frontbench colleagues are doing a fine job,” Mr Abbott told the Nine Network. “And look, we can always play this game of trying to turn politics into a soap opera, but it’s a very serious business.”…..

MPs also warned against the centralisation of power in the Prime Minister’s office, saying it limited access to Mr Abbott…..

One MP likened yesterday’s partyroom meeting to a film, The Stepford Wives, in which robotic women work without complaint.

No MPs asked about the GP co-payment or university reforms at yesterday’s meeting and there was no discussion of the confusing messages sent last week about policy positions. Only one MP asked about the Coalition’s drubbing in the Victorian state election.

West Australian MP Ken Wyatt stood at one point and rebuked the “arrogance” of ministerial staff members, which some took as a coded reference to the centralisation of power in the ministerial wing. “The criticism that they’ve put barriers up around the Prime Minister is absolutely true,” an MP said. “They’ve put walls around him for their own benefit and that’s a big mistake.”

Another said the Prime Minister’s office should be consulting MPs about how to improve policies and political tactics. “There is a degree of paranoia there that is totally unwarranted and unnecessary because there’s no threat to Tony.”…..

The Australian 3 December 2014:

A FORMER key adviser to Defence Minister David Johnston has accused Tony Abbott’s office of running Australia’s defence policy by stealth, leaving Senator Johnston a toothless, “incidental” minister.
Russell Stranger accuses the Prime Minister’s office of micro-managing the portfolio, undermining Senator Johnston’s reform agenda and hijacking the new defence white paper.
Mr Stranger is also critical of Senator Johnston’s handling of defence, describing the lack of progress by the previous Labor government and the minister on the new submarine project as disappointing and unforgivable.
Mr Stranger’s comments will fuel concerns about the dominance of the Prime Minister’s office. Mr Abbott was this week forced to defend his office amid claims that its senior members and chief of staff Peta Credlin exert excessive control.

Mr Stranger’s comments also come less than a week after Mr Abbott was forced to defend Senator Johnston when the minister said government shipbuilder ASC could not be trusted to build a canoe.....

Public sentiment remains much the same........

Channel 9 News online readers poll results at approx. 9.51am on 3 December 2014


Australian Financial Review 4 December 2014:

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop has remonstrated with Prime Minister Tony Abbott after reading in the media that she was to be chaperoned by Trade Minister Andrew Robb at an international climate change summit next week.
Sources told The Australian Financial Review that Ms Bishop demanded a “please explain” from Mr Abbott this week after reading in Fairfax Media’s Sun-Herald that Mr Robb would be shadowing her at the United Nations climate change conference in Lima, Peru.
“Julie went bananas at the PM,” said one source.
The story is doing the rounds at senior levels of the government and fuelling growing discontent among cabinet ministers at Mr Abbott’s office, specifically his chief of staff, Peta Credlin.
Mr Robb is junior to Ms Bishop insofar as she is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
She was not consulted about the “chaperoning” and it has been suggested Mr Robb, a hardliner on climate change policy, was to be sent by Mr Abbott’s office to ensure she did not over-commit Australia on climate change policy.
It is understood Ms Bishop also confronted Mr Robb over the matter.

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