Wednesday, 10 December 2014

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

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

Now that the flood gates have opened and a rising storm surge is threatening to founder Merchant Vessel Abbott, Liberal Party insiders are spilling the beans to journalists…….

Herald Sun 7 December 2014:

But what voters would no doubt like the Abbott Government to do over Christmas is stop talking about themselves and start governing. The Government itself needs to take a big, long break over summer and turn off their mobile phones because they are tired and behaving somewhat like my toddler when she starts screaming in the back seat of the car about five minutes before she passes out fast asleep. The Abbott Government needs a nap.

The Sydney Morning Herald 7 December 2014:

A funny thing happens when governments start to panic.
All of a sudden, the language becomes clearer.
Has any government press release, any speech, any happy ministerial aphorism ever carried, for instance, the same urgent fluency as was exhibited last week in the disclosure that Treasurer Joe Hockey had "gone off his tits" about his colleagues' extravagant mangling of the GP co-payment debate?
It's a crude expression, of course. On just about every level (semiotic, rhetorical, anatomical) it's just wrong, wrong, wrong.
And yet, there was a pungency to the line (delivered by a nameless Coalition squealer) that was something of a relief, particularly when juxtaposed against the Prime Minister's cheery assertion, before a room of his stricken colleagues, that "this has been a year rich in performance".

Brisbane Times 6 December 2014:

The Coalition is "not a happy family" and there is a "shitload of room for improvement" say government MPs, who confess to being in the dark regarding the future of the government's controversial GP co-payment and a mooted cabinet re-shuffle, because those decisions are centralised to the Prime Minister's office.
"We are not all a happy family ... you're going to have to ask people outside the backbench what's happening with any of the policy decisions, because there is very little inclusion," said one disgruntled backbencher.
"We usually read about it in the papers. Is there resentment? Of course there is."……
A wide survey of Coalition MPs by Fairfax Media revealed a mixture of anger, disappointment and loyalty in response to questions about the recent outbreak of grumbling among government members, with Treasurer Joe Hockey a particular target……
As for a Cabinet re-shuffle, "it's really Tony and Peta's decision, there's no point pretending otherwise", the MP said, referring to the Prime Minister and his chief of staff Peta Credlin, who has been criticised for a perceived excess of power within the government.

The Age 6 December 2014:

The Treasurer Joe Hockey has acknowledged ministerial unrest about budget measures as he added fuel to perceptions of disarray surrounding the Abbott government's failure to receive support for its reform agenda.
Mr Hockey has become a lightning rod for internal dissatisfaction due to stalled budget measures and a deteriorating deficit, with calls internally for him to be replaced.
On the final day of Parliament for the year, Mr Hockey attempted to address party-room mutterings arising from a series of political errors and what some say is excessive control by the Prime Minister's Office.
The fractious mood follows a messy final two weeks of the parliamentary year dominated by confusion over the $7 GP co-payment - dubbed the "barnacle debacle" - controversies in the office of the Minister for Defence, David Johnston, and new tensions between Mr Abbott and his deputy leader and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop….
For his part, Mr Hockey has confirmed the unrest inside government ranks by publicly pointing the finger at ministerial colleagues angry about having to find savings in their portfolios.
"Look, this is part and parcel of being Treasurer. When you have conversations with your colleagues about asking them to live within their means, in their portfolios, some of them don't like it but we have got to do what is right for the Australian people," he said.
"I know it's hard for people. I know it's hard for the community. I know it's hard for colleagues but we have to do what is right."
The Treasurer said it was up to the other members of the Abbott government, not just him, to do the hard work in selling the budget to the public.
But the mood for change has gripped some inside the Coalition who are looking to Communications Minister and former Liberal leader  Malcolm Turnbull to be installed as treasurer.
"The jungle drums are beating," said one longstanding Liberal, who warned frustrations could come to a head in the early months of 2015…..

The Australian 6 December 2014:

Tony Abbott risks becoming a one-term prime minister unless he lifts the Government’s fortunes, with Labor opening up a 10-point lead — 55:45 — on a two-party preferred basis.
After a week of confusion over the $7 GP fee and Mr Abbott admitting the Government had a “ragged’’ week, support has plunged.
For the first time, Labor leader Bill Shorten has passed the Coalition on the primary vote since the election of the Abbott Government.
Support for Labor is 41 per cent on primaries.
An exclusive Galaxy poll commissioned by the Sunday Herald Sun has revealed that primary support for the Government has plunged to 38 per cent. That represents a 7.5 per cent drop since the 2013 election when Mr Abbott secured 45.5 of the primary vote.
Primary support for Labor has hit 41 per cent compared to just 33.4 per cent under Kevin Rudd at the last federal election.
“In Victoria, support for the Coalition is below the vote achieved by the Napthine government at the state election last weekend,” Galaxy pollster David Briggs said. “Given that the Coalition lost government in Victoria after just one term in office, this suggests that a similar fate could await the Abbott Government unless voters see a notable improvement in their performance.’’

The Australian 6 December 2014:

A CAMPAIGN to destabilise Joe Hockey has been undermined by revelations that Tony Abbott’s ­office made a crucial decision to delay telling voters about the full extent of the nation’s financial problems.
The government’s budget sales job was weakened from the start because Mr Abbott and his ministers argued over when to reveal the grim scenarios outlined in the National Commission of Audit, forcing a delay that wrecked their message.
The Prime Minister’s office ­insisted on shelving a sweeping budget review for 10 weeks when the Treasurer and other ministers wanted to provoke a national ­debate on the need for deep cuts to government spending.
The Weekend Australian has confirmed that Mr Abbott’s advisers were so concerned about the explosive ideas from the commission of audit that they considered suppressing the report until budget day. The issue goes to the heart of the dispute over the government’s economic message as critics blame Mr Hockey for failing to persuade the electorate to accept cuts to benefits, changes to pensions and increases in petrol excise.
The nation heard another dire warning yesterday when Martin Parkinson, in his final speech as Treasury secretary, predicted a “decade of deficits” and a hit to ­living standards if Australia did not tackle the structural problems in the budget.
Mr Abbott stood by Mr ­Hockey yesterday in the wake of claims that backbench MPs wanted Malcolm Turnbull installed as treasurer, a rumour that illustrated the blame game within the government over its stumbles…..
The Australian 6 December 2014:
POLITICIANS give the game away when they do something they don’t want to do.
Lip service and conceding on principle is stock in trade but to force yourself into a major step that deep down you don’t even want to contemplate is a sign that you’ve recognised there’s a problem.
A real problem that won’t go away by wishing and hoping.
Tony Abbott is there now.
He will have a reshuffle before Parliament resumes in the first week of February next year, probably as soon as practical after the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption hands down a report which will include at least commentary on the behaviour of stood aside assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos.
Abbott told 7.30 host Leigh Sales on Thursday he thought a reshuffle would happen between now and the election, due in late 2016.
“But this is a good front bench,” said Abbott.
“Scott Morrison has stopped the boats. Everyone thought that couldn’t be done.
“Julie Bishop has had a stellar year as Foreign Minister, remarkable performance at the Security Council.
 “Mathias Cormann has been an outstanding Finance minister, done magnificent work, unsung work negotiating with the cross bench in the Senate.
 “I could go through the list. Joe Hockey has been criticised lately, but I tell you what, I think Joe is going to be one of the great treasurers because he’s someone who bounces back and that’s what he’s doing now.”
In coded political language these are the people whose jobs are rock solid — and you can add Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss to this list (current health woes notwithstanding), Employment Minister Eric Abetz and Attorney General George Brandis.
Abbott is not going to touch his leadership group — and there is no way he will contemplate the calls to dump Treasurer Hockey.
In fact, the harder those calling for his removal — believed in Abbott’s office to be a mix of Scott Morrison supporters and News Corp executives — make their voices heard the more the PM will dig in behind his friend and colleague.
Beyond this all bets are off and the PM and his close advisers — ministerial, staff and extra-curricular — are considering not if or when but what.
 “Even if Arthur gets a rap over he knuckles for not knowing what was going on (when he was chairman of a water supply company involved in dirty deal and a senior official of the NSW Liberal Party, which took money from the water company), he can’t return as the guy who oversees corporate governance,” says one insider with close ties to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
“(Defence Minister) David Johnson won’t be punted but he will with ask for a new portfolio or make the ultimate sacrifice and go to the back bench, maybe on the promise of a job.
“(Health Minister Peter) Dutton has to be high on the list of candidates for a move, as will be (social security minister) Kevin Andrews.”
Any list of newcomers has to have a women at the top and the female junior minister looking like Cabinet material is NSW Liberal Susan Ley who has done a good job handling child care and related policy areas.
This reshuffle should be the reboot Abbott talked about but never quite achieved this week.
The last week of Parliament was another bad one for the Abbott Government which has had trouble matching what has been a reasonable year of some achievement with any recognition in the polls or a lasting perception of competence.
Abbott’s “small m and small c” mea culpa news conference at the beginning of the week was soon swamped by Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s messy failure to get his higher education reforms through the Senate and the final political death sentence for Dutton’s $7 Medicare copayment.
Government MPs met in a sullen mood, with the memory of the weekend election loss for the Liberal Nationals government in Victoria fresh in their minds and new poll showing Abbott is as unpopular as ever and the federal Coalition remaining in a persistent losing position.
Abbott’s failure to communicate had been put up in lights that morning — against a backdrop of actual blinking Christmas tree baubles — when he had a chat with Channel 9 breakfast host — and some time Abbott pal — Karl Stefanovic. ”Are you worried you might be a one term wonder?” and “No one is buying what you’re saying is the point” were the two sharpest Stefanovic lines.
Abbott looked stung and weak.
By the end of the week Abbott was even contemplating his political mortality, answering head on a question from the ABC’s Sales about stepping down as PM, if the polls wee still diabolical later next year.
“Well, that’s a fair question, Leigh. But I think one of the fundamental lessons of the last catastrophic (Labor) government was that you don’t change leaders lightly,” said Abbott.
Abbott has told a few malcontents that if they weren’t happy with him the alternative was Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
This is a straw man because while Turnbull would live the circumstances to turn his way they are unlikely to do so in this term of government.
Abbott’s observation also overlooks two very willing and credible options — Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and his deputy Julie Bishop.
In their own way they are seriously selling their talents to their colleagues and if the proverbial bus hit Abbott it would be a willing and close contest…..
“Elections are harder to predict and electorates will not indulge incumbents with a second term.”
Decoded, the MP is saying the only way to be in the hunt for a second term is to earn it.
This is the other lesson Abbott needs to accept and digest. He has not shown too many signs he gets it yet. At his 45 minute, longest in years, Monday press conference, Abbott said if the government communicated better the public would be more appreciative they had been so far, prompting some people to think the PM felt his plight was in part [t]he fault of the voters.
Asked about this, Abbott says no one likes being told they are living beyond their means before using the analogy of a bank cutting a person’s credit card limit.
It appears it is more deep seated that this. A new mood of the nation report by pollster John Scales is being released this weekend and it shows the public only really buys one achievement of the Abbott Government and that’s stopping the asylum seeker boats.
Apparently the political credit for that is diminishing the longer the time without an arrival — voters have pocketed the win and are looking for something else.
Scales also reports the government has not had any credit for repealing the disliked Labor mining and carbon taxes — this was expected and there’s no prize for it — and has comprehensively lost the budgetary and economic debate.

The Daily Telegraph 5 December 2014:

EARLY last year, Joe Hockey pledged “We’ll deliver a surplus in our first year and every year after that.”
For the eighth time, he committed that an incoming Coalition government would never preside over a budget in deficit. Every Coalition budget, Mr Hockey pledged, would be a surplus budget.
Fast forward a year, and the only thing in surplus is red ink. When the Coalition came to office, the Charter of Budget Honesty laid out the state of the books. This year’s budget deficit was forecast to be $24 billion.
So much for paying down debt. By the time Mr Hockey had delivered his first budget, he’d pushed this year’s deficit up to $30 billion. Now, most informed sources have it blowing out still further when the Mini-Budget is released in a few weeks.
Why is the deficit rising? Part of the answer is that Mr Hockey can’t resist looking after his mates. A billion dollars to multinationals, a tax break for people with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts, and soon you’re talking real money.
Mr Hockey was fond of saying in Opposition that there was “no revenue problem”, but he sure seems to have created one since coming to office.
To make up the gap, Mr Hockey proposes cutting one in every five dollars of per-student university funding, and has already slashed needs-based school funding to states and territories. The result is that Australia’s meritocracy risks being turned into a mate-ocracy.
And then there’s confidence. Before the election, Mr Hockey said that the election of a Coalition government would be an ‘adrenaline charge’. He proudly said of the economy: ‘I’m not afraid to accept responsibility and I’m not afraid to be accountable. We will own it from day one.’
Instead, over the past year the government has produced more tantrums than a day-care centre at naptime — blaming the Opposition for opposing, the media for reporting instead of cheerleading, and the business community for failing to sell his budget.
The result has been a significant hit to confidence. Whether it’s the ANZ Roy Morgan consumer sentiment survey, the NAB Business Survey or the Australian Industry Group’s September Performance of Services Index, there’s consistent evidence that consumers and businesses are feeling sluggish.
Having a Treasurer trash-talking the economy is one reason why the promised economic adrenaline charge is turning out to be more like a dose of Valium.
The other is that this government’s regressive changes are directly cutting into consumer spending. Poorer Australians spend all their incomes, while the more affluent save about a quarter. So transferring money from the poor to the rich doesn’t just offend egalitarianism; it also hurts spending. If you’re a retailer, the last thing you need is a government that’s Robin Hood in reverse, particularly in the lead up to the busy Christmas period.

The Courier Mail 5 December 2014:

IMMIGRATION Minister Scott Morrison had a big win late on Thursday night, gaining enough crossbench support to ensure the Senate passed changes to asylum seeker laws, including measures to bolster the Government’s power to turn back boats.
He had been working flat-out for more than a week to get the numbers, at one stage even pursuing Clive Palmer to a function at the US embassy to continue the arm-twisting that eventually got Palmer United Party senators on side.
That Senate success was a rare high point for the Abbott Government in what was a shambolic end to a shambolic parliamentary year.
Yet just hours later, when yesterday’s edition of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph hit the streets with a front-page report on suggestions Joe Hockey could be dumped as Treasurer, some of his Liberal colleagues were pointing the finger at Morrison as a likely source.
“For God’s sake, Scott’s been virtually living with crossbenchers all week,” said a Morrison defender. “He had a merciless focus on getting this legislation through. When would he have had the time to dump on Joe?”
Other Liberals had different suspicions about the exclusive by journalist Simon Benson.
Benson is well connected and one of his most important connections is in the Prime Minister’s office. Because of that, according to a senior Liberal MP, “people will not assume it has been written lightly”. Another source says: “Directing attention at Joe could be an attempt to give some cover to the PM. He’s the one who’s been stuffing up lately.”
No matter who spoke to Benson or what was their motivation, the importance of the incident lies in the disunity and paranoia it exposes and the lack of trust at the highest levels of the Government…..

The Australian 5 December 2014:

THERE is a moment in the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives when a smart, successful TV producer, played by Nicole Kidman, learns the truth about how her town’s evil mastermind, played by Christopher Walken, turns women into obedient housewives. “We help you. We perfect you,” says Walken. Kidman is aghast. “By turning us into robots?”
You can see why this movie came to mind when Coalition MPs gathered to hear from Tony Abbott on Tuesday. The Prime Minister’s message was that the year had been “rich in performance” and full of achievement. Nobody spoke to break the spell.
“Nobody wants to say what they’re thinking,” says one MP. “Everybody just had to sit there and clap.” The government’s achievements are real but its failures loom so large they overshadow all else. Abbott’s great political successes, like the repeal of the carbon tax, seem long ago.
The fumbling of major policies recently has been astonishing for a government that had such control earlier this year. The change has dismayed Coalition MPs, who have the hard task of explaining away their leaders’ clumsiness.
Abbott and his ministers are slow to confront the challenge they face. The Prime Minister talks of “achievement” at every opportunity even though it has become the trigger word for Labor MPs to respond with canned laughter.
Joe Hockey offers a tentative response to a dangerous slowdown in growth and a descent into bigger budget deficits.
The budget update the week after next will be the government’s opportunity to face up to its maladies. The $48.5 billion deficit last financial year — that is the final outcome, not a tricky forecast — will be followed by a deficit of about $40bn this year…..

The Guardian 5 December 2014:

Senior sources suggest blaming Hockey is a way to deflect criticism from the performance of Abbott himself as possible alternative future contenders, such as the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, are obviously raising their public profile.
When asked whether he would ever consider standing aside Abbott says no, because “the worst thing for Australia would be to have another unstable, short-term government.”
But based on its current performance and polling, that is exactly what the Abbott government appears to be.

The Age 4 December 2014:

Tony Abbott must already rue the decision to send Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb to Lima to hold Julie Bishop's hand in international climate change talks next week.
It is poor judgment in an area of policy in which Abbott has too often shown feet of clay and policy myopia.
It may well have longer-term implications for the Abbott-Bishop relationship and therefore the stability of his government.
The deputy Liberal leader and Foreign Minister reportedly did her nut - or went bananas - in Abbott's office after Fairfax Media reported the inclusion of her unofficial chaperone. This aspect has.
But whether it was a heated confrontation or a calm exchange, the meeting apparently took place and that alone reveals Bishop's nose was out of joint over what would inevitably be seen as a reflection on her abilities and/or her trustworthiness.
It is being surmised that the PM wanted the sceptical Robb along for the ride because the flinty negotiator is less likely to be swept up in growing international momentum towards tougher emissions targets.
Abbott was initially going to let the Lima conference slide by with no ministerial representation.
But having witnessed the partial hijacking of the G20 on climate grounds, and having read Abbott's post summit comments as portending a more progressive stance into the future, Bishop counselled in favour of Australia's top-level participation. Namely, her own, as the minister charged with such international negotiating responsibilities.
Abbott agreed but with one condition: Robb too. Both ministers were advised in writing by the PM last Thursday. 
Robb's performance stitching up three complex free trade deals has been one of the government's success stories. His effectiveness in international negotiations is now a given.
But Bishop has been the undisputed stand-out minister in this government - especially if popularity means anything, as it should to this mostly unloved administration.
The idea that the Foreign Minister might not enjoy the unqualified support of the PM is a serious one. Grave even. Just weeks ago she was good enough to chair the UN Security Council. Before that, she successfully wrangled the same notoriously riven body to unanimously adopt a tough resolution on MH17.

ABC The World Today 8 December 2014:

The Prime Minister says his government has kept the faith with voters, and he won't apologise for misleading them before the last election on policies like the GP co-payment and higher education changes.

The Sydney Morning Herald 9 December 2014:

Treasurer Joe Hockey woke last week to an unwelcome invitation from the government's most ardent supporter in the media, The Australian. Hand over to Malcolm Turnbull if you are "not hungry enough" for the job, the newspaper editorialised.
How things have changed since budget day 2014, just over six months ago.

Part One here.

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