Sunday, 8 February 2015

The path down which Tony Abbott so recklessly trod


The Daily Telegraph political cartoonist Warren Brown 

 Part One: Team Abbott

The Guardian 8 February 2015:

Team Abbott sailed to victory, extraordinary gusts of hubris filling their sails. If opposition had been conducted within the confines of a box, the prime ministership was to become a fortress. The victors disdained the cultural moment and thumbed their noses at the zeitgeist with a towering kind of arrogance.

The coterie around the prime minister brought their conflict addiction, their brittle tribalism and their self-reinforcing insularity into government. The prime minister’s chief of staff stood sentry at the door, and the prime minister wanted the security blanket of the old rituals, like an elite sportsman insisting on his lucky socks.

Abbott then insisted that the entire government cede its freedom just as quiescently as he had. The culture of freedom and managed dissent in the Liberal party was to be replaced with command and control from his office. The Abbott cabinet lacked the talent and firepower of the Howard cabinet, and Abbott lacked the finesse and accumulated wisdom of Howard – so perhaps this was a gesture of insurance more than an outburst of gratuitous authoritarianism. But talent within government ranks did exist. It was just banished to the bleachers if it was mouthy. It wasn’t just ministers. Friends and confidants had the door closed in their face if the feedback was unpalatable.

The backbiting began almost immediately. The take-no-prisoners culture imposed inside the government created the bizarre cult of Peta Credlin, which was both vexed reality and collective mythology. The “witch in the office” began to loom larger than ministers, and project as a proxy for the prime minister rather than a conduit. The prime minister was rendered a sock puppet, and consented to his diminution.

Politics has a high tolerance for bastardry as long as the strategy is working. But the edifice began crumbling very slowly right from the start. The whole enterprise felt strangely vacant and unconvincing.

There was no real clean break, no fresh start. How could there be? Abbott began his life as prime minister knee deep in the wreckage he’d imposed on the polity. All the things to resent about politics since 2010 were not past tense because one of the main protagonists was still on his feet. Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had faded, sensibly, into history.

Abbott has always been a contrary figure, a complex person, and his stock in trade, aggressive simplicity, could only resonate when it was delivered in broad brushstrokes. The devil was always going to be in the detail. The basic contradictions started early. The man who’d elevated trust and competence to moral imperatives in national politics quickly proved himself neither trustworthy nor particularly competent. Small-target politics in opposition was replaced by an agenda the voters didn’t expect, and then Abbott blamed onlookers for failing to read the tea leaves.

At budget time the new Coalition government unleashed an ambitious referendum. Would we tolerate a society that was less fair? This was not supposed to be a surprise because Joe Hockey once made a speech about ending the age of entitlement. The answer to the question was a resounding no. Again, very little made sense. Low and middle-income earners copped the pain disproportionately, only to see savings spent on thought bubble priorities rather than directed to repairing the deficit. How could a genuine budget emergency produce net savings of only $3bn over four years? It was bollocks, and the voters knew it.

The agenda in Abbottland whipped around in the prevailing wind. Abbott didn’t know if he was freedom Tony, or security Tony, or austerity Tony, or double the deficit Tony. The treasurer thought poor people didn’t drive cars and high-income earners paid half their income in tax. Apart from gaffes and thought bubbles and brain explosions, there was a basic and persistent level of identity confusion.

In government, Abbott had relished the daily combat but his officials complained he wasn’t enamoured by detailed policy work. Government can’t just be a culture war, a raised fist against modernity, it requires focus and direction. It requires an intellectual core. Rather than soothing persistent anxiety in the community, Abbott heaped on the surprises to the point where it was impossible to define the government’s character. What was Abbott’s core? Why does Tony Abbott want to be prime minister? It is entirely unclear. Does he even want to be prime minister? That is also, sometimes, unclear.

Looking through the self-interested anecdotes various protagonists are feeding to journalists in order to deepen this current crisis in order to force a resolution, understanding that in a leadership crisis everybody lies and everything is quicksand – the simple facts are Abbott’s leadership is on death watch because he has lost, comprehensively, in the court of public opinion.

Full article here.


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Part Two: Fiscal Frolics

Crikey 3 February 2015:

The Coalition that promised in 2012 to reduce Australia's debt by $30 billion delivered in 2014 an increase of more than $60 billion. Clearly Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have failed spectacularly to reduce Labor's "skyrocketing debt".

Outcomes for the full calendar year 2014 are now online at the Finance Department's website. Commonwealth monthly financial statements show year-to-date net debt and the projection for the full financial year. Hence it is simple to calculate the debt incurred — or repaid — each month.

Australia's net government debt — that is, money borrowed minus money loaned out — was $239.16 billion at the end of December. This was a hefty increase over the level a month earlier of $224.35 billion. In just one month, the debt rose almost $15 billion, or 6.6%. Compounded, that rate would double the debt in less than a year. Fortunately, the December rise was abnormal.

So what was the full-year increase through 2014?

At the end of 2013, the actual net debt was $177.74 billion. Hence the increase over the full year was $61.42 billion ($239.16 - $177.74). That's a rise of 34.6%.

That December 2013 actual figure is pretty close to the level that can reasonably be attributed to Labor. As Crikey explained last October, the best measure of Labor's debt is the projection for the end of the full year 2013-14 at the September 2013 election. At that time, projected debt at year end was $178.1 billion, although actual debt then was marginally lower. That year-end projection of $178.1 billion was affirmed in Finance's statements for October and November 2013. It did not shift until well after Joe Hockey had taken control of the levers.

So is it possible that debt has peaked and will soon tumble, as promised? No — Friday's figures also show a higher estimate for total debt at year end, still six months away. This is now projected to be $244.84 billion.

If $178.1 billion is the debt level attributable to Labor, then it can be argued that by the end of this financial year the Coalition will have blown out Labor's debt by $66.7 billion ($244.8 billion to $178.1 billion) or 37.5%. In one budget.

Full article here.

1 comment:

Ursula Tunks said...

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/why-tony-abbotts-leadership-is-in-peril-20150208-138wz3.html

Never thought I'd see the day that Amanda Vanstone uttered these words ... let alone have them appear in an Opinion piece in the SMH!!!!